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Middlesex and England Lions spinner aims to take his good form into new County Championship season

Middlesex's Ollie Rayner (centre) celebrates dismissing Surrey's Gareth Batty (out of picture). Middlesex's Ollie Rayner (centre) celebrates dismissing Surrey's Gareth Batty (out of picture).

Ben Kosky
Thursday, April 3, 2014
7:32 AM

If anyone is relishing the start of the new season, it’s Ollie Rayner – in fact, the Middlesex spinner must wish the last one had never ended.

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Out of sorts during the early part of the summer, Rayner was dropped to the second team and, after a thorough remodelling of his bowling action, returned with a bang.

The 28-year-old collected his first five-wicket haul of the season against Derbyshire – as well as hitting an unbeaten half-century – and followed it up with an astonishing demolition job on Middlesex’s biggest rivals.

Rayner recorded match figures of 15-118, the seventh best in Middlesex history, to secure victory over Surrey at The Oval, and his form earned him a call-up to the England Lions side for their winter tour of Sri Lanka.

“That wasn’t on my radar at all,” said Rayner. “It was a bonus and a pretty good bonus and I enjoyed every minute of it. The fact that it all came together in one year was absolutely brilliant.

“The decision to look at my bowling action was a big one – I completely stripped it back, started from square one and did a lot of work, which really paid off.

“I never really looked back – even in games where I didn’t take lots of wickets, I bowled nicely. It was good to get a little bit of recognition for that and, more than the recognition, an opportunity to carry on my form.

“To continue what I was doing was my main goal and I even managed to burgle my way onto the MCC trip to play Durham in Dubai the other week, so I could get out of England and bowl a bit before the season.

“It’s all about confidence in professional sport if someone’s flying high. Bad balls don’t get whacked and good balls stick, whereas when things aren’t going well, half-chances are dropped or you don’t get that lbw.

“I hope I can carry this through and start again where I left off –maybe not in terms of wickets, but in terms of my action and the feel of it. I’m buzzing and ready to go.”

Middlesex’s first assignment of the new County Championship season, starting on Sunday, sends Rayner back to the familiar surroundings of Hove to take on his former county, Sussex.

The off-spinner, who moved permanently to Lord’s two years ago after an earlier loan spell, expects Sussex – who finished third in Division One last season – to be among the title contenders again.

But he also believes Middlesex, who slipped to fifth after falling away in the closing weeks of the 2013 campaign, can mount a stronger challenge of their own.

“The last two seasons were almost the wrong way round,” said Rayner. “We finished third the year before but perhaps didn’t deserve that, then last year I believe we deserved to finish higher.

“But we have to keep our concentration for the whole season, because we did peter off a little bit. I know how Sussex operate and I don’t think you can rule them out this season – or any season.

“I don’t mind going back to Hove – if anything, I enjoy it, although I’d rather do it in August when I can sit on the beach and have an ice-cream as opposed to wrapping up in a hundred jumpers in April!

“Every team is bang up for that first game and it’s just about whoever comes out of the blocks the quickest.

“If we carry on what we’ve been doing into this year and we’re up near the top when it matters, we’ll have it all to play for.”

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