Saturday, 18 April 2009

2009 Season Preview: Middlesex

by Benjamin Fyffe

2008 in a nutshell
A solid if not spectacular season in the Championship for Middlesex, with the county finishing third in the second division, just outside the two promotion spots. One day cricket went less well as the county was relegated from division one of the Pro40, not that anyone seems to really care about that anymore. The really fantastic thing about last season for Middlesex was indeed their triumph in the Twenty20 cup and, despite the Stanford Super Series battering that followed, it certainly gave the players of the county a considerable financial boost.

2008 top performers
Eoin Morgan performed magnificently with the bat last season to finish with a first class average of over 50, higher than team mate Owais Shah. Tim Murtagh was also outstanding throughout the summer of 2008, finishing with 104 wickets in all competitions, why did Surrey let him go?

2009 prospects
As ever Middlesex are difficult to judge but promotion in both the Championship and Pro40 is not journeying too far into the realms of fantasy. A one day trophy would also be nice, possibly even holding onto their Twenty20 crown. The real worry is that the squad lacks experience and, with Owais Shah likely to be away on England duty for at least the first part of the summer, the batting line-up looks very fresh faced. The club will also be damaged by the losses of Ed Joyce and Ed Smith over the winter. Captain Smith retired due to injury and will be sorely missed, as his captaincy nous is severely underrated, while Joyce decided to move to the South Coast so that he could commute in the opposite direction to everybody else in the mornings. Young Australian starlet will need to provide an energy boost at the start of the season until Murali Kartik can return from the IPL.

Strongest XI

PJ Hughes (DM Housego)
BA Godleman (AJ Strauss)
EJG Morgan
NJ Dexter (NRD Compton)
DJ Malan (OA Shah)
BJM Scott+ (DC Nash+)
SD Udal*
TJ Murtagh (T Henderson)
M Kartik (GK Berg)
A Richardson (CEW Silverwood)
ST Finn (D Evans)

Limited Overs
PJ Hughes (BA Godleman)
NJ Dexter (AJ Strauss)
EJG Morgan (SD Robson)
DJ Malan (OA Shah)
GK Berg (NRD Compton)
T Henderson
BJM Scott+ (DC Nash+)
SD Udal*
TJ Murtagh (CEW Silverwood)
M Kartik
ST Finn (D Evans)

Philip Hughes will open the innings in both Championship and One Day cricket until his stint as overseas player is concluded. 20 year old Billy Godleman will be looking to forget his dip in form last season to lead from the top of the order throughout the season while Dan Housego is also likely to play a decent amount of cricket this season. Neil Dexter may step up to open in one day cricket. All this is under the assumption that England do not try and commit Ashes suicide and send Andrew Strauss back to his county side and appoint Stuart Broad as captain.

Middle Order
Owais Shah, providing he can get his first Test century against the West Indies next month, should be on England duty throughout the summer. Therefore Eoin Morgan will be relied on more than ever before in his fledgling career to lead the Middlesex middle order. He is certainly capable but experience could be his downfall. Support will come from Neil Dexter, Dawid Malan and Nick Compton, all of whom are closer to spring chickens than seasoned pros. All-rounder Gareth Berg should play the odd Championship game as well as the majority of limited overs games and Tyrone Henderson will undoubtedly be sent in high up the order in Twenty20 and Pro40 to try and bludgeon a few big hits.

Wicket Keeper
Ben Scott seems to have made this position his own now, but he still has competition from David Nash. Both are fine keepers and decent batsmen. Providing they're not both injured Middlesex have no real worries in this area of the team.

Fast Bowlers
Expect Tim Murtagh to lead the line again with support from Steven Finn, for whom this is a big season, and Danny Evans. Chris Silverwood and Alan Richardson are also still around to provide experienced fastish medium deliveries. Tyrone Henderson and Gareth Berg will also be helping out in the one day competitions.

Murali Kartik is away in the IPL for the start of the season but when he returns he'll be hoping to spin Middlesex to victory as often as possible with the support of captain Shaun Udal, who won't be expecting an England recall. If Udal is injured before Murali's arrival this is a weak area of the squad with no real back-up.

Rising Star
Dawid Malan showed great promise last season, and is now in the England performance squad, and if he can progress this season he could end up being a key player for the county this summer.

Key Man
Eoin Morgan has to lead the batting well from the start this season, otherwise the quest for Championship promotion could be over come June.

Captain and Coach
Shaun Udal will draw on all his experience to try and galvanise the troops this season as well as trying to groom a potential successor for next season. Tony Radford is head coach and will be looking to boost his credentials and get the county back where they so strongly feel they belong, at the top. He will have support from Angus Fraser, who believes promotion is 'very realistic' for the county this season.


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