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Seamer is confident as Middlesex gear up for T20 Blast double header against Essex and Sussex

07:30 15 May 2014

Toby Roland-Jones (left) celebrates a wicket for Middlesex against Lancashire

Toby Roland-Jones (left) celebrates a wicket for Middlesex against Lancashire

SARAH WILLIAMS

Toby Roland-Jones is optimistic that Middlesex can finally make the breakthrough and reach the knockout stages when the rebranded T20 Blast launches later this week.

The Panthers have failed to progress from their group since they won the Twenty20 Cup in 2008 – but they showed real signs of improvement last season, only narrowly missing out on a quarter-final spot.

And seamer Roland-Jones believes the Lord’s side – who begin their T20 Blast campaign with a ground-breaking double header on Saturday against Essex and Sussex – are well capable of qualifying this time.

“We’ve been threatening for the last few years to really progress and put something together and we certainly feel this year is as good as any,” said the 26-year-old.

“The South group is very strong – we play against a lot of good teams, which is great because, if you want to be progressing, you have to be beating the best sides.

“We’ve got the double header on Saturday and I think I speak for all the lads when I say we’re pretty excited about that. When you come to Lord’s and you’ve got near enough a packed house, there’s no better place to be.”

With the exception of T20 finals day, this weekend will be the first time back-to-back matches have been staged in English cricket, with Essex Eagles the Panthers’ first opponents at 12pm and Sussex Sharks taking to the field at 4pm.

Middlesex will be captained by England international Eoin Morgan, who featured just twice in their T20 campaign last year, and Roland-Jones is hopeful that the inclusion of the experienced left-hander will make a big difference to their prospects of qualification.

“It brings a bit of fresh energy to the side,” said Roland-Jones. “His record in international cricket is outstanding and it adds to our firepower, which has already got us close in the last few years.

“If his addition to the middle order happens to be the final ingredient, that’s great. We’ve certainly got a good battery of seamers and a couple of good spinners to back it up.

“Every year it seems that batsmen are coming up with new ways to score and more powerful shots, but that’s part of what makes the competition so enjoyable.

“It certainly doesn’t mean that fast bowling or death bowling is a dying art, although it might be getting harder – you’ve got to take it on and see it as a bit of a challenge.

“Whatever number batsman comes in has the ability to strike a clean ball and clear the ropes. If you’re missing your yorker or slower ball, you’re going to get punished.”

In previous years, the T20 group matches have been condensed into five or six weeks, but the 2014 schedule is spread over a longer period of time.

As well as return matches with Essex and Sussex, the Panthers also take on Surrey, Hampshire, Kent, Somerset twice and Glamorgan and Gloucestershire once each, with the group stage due to finish on July 25.

“Having T20 mixed in with the County Championship rather than all in a block is a bit new to us,” added Roland-Jones, who was Middlesex’s leading T20 wicket-taker two years ago.

“I suppose the tricky thing will be to balance it with our preparation for the Championship and balance that. They are two very separate entities, the red ball and the white ball, and there might be a bit of rotation.

“Perhaps for batsmen it’s going to be tough to find a rhythm and routine and for bowlers maybe less so – rhythm can be as little as your run-up to the crease, which can transfer a bit more easily.”

Australian all-rounder Dan Christian is due to make his Panthers debut in Saturday’s double header at Lord’s, for which tickets are still available at http://tickets.lords.org/

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