Dexter: Middlesex are shaping up well

MIDDLESEX captain Neil Dexter believes his troops are better prepared than ever before as they launch their County Championship campaign against Essex on Thursday.

The Lord’s squad warmed up for the new season with a lengthy training camp under the guidance of fitness instructor Luke Woodhouse, and Dexter, who begins his first full season as captain, is confident it will pay off.

“The idea came from the management, but I was very keen when it came up and at the moment our fitness tests have been a lot higher than in the last few years,” said Dexter.

“We started off the hard work with the fitness camp, spending a lot of time in the gym and working with a cage fighter as well. I think everyone enjoyed it and it’s brought us closer as a team.

“As [director of cricket] Gus Fraser has said, this is the fittest Middlesex team there’s actually ever been and that is important these days – there are a lot more games than there used to be.

“Consistency is very important and the main thing is not to panic – the team that panics first is the one that loses the session or the game. We proved that last year – when we won, we won big and when we lost, we lost badly.”

Middlesex have now been marooned in the second tier of the County Championship for the last four years and have only narrowly avoided the wooden spoon in each of their two most recent campaigns.

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And Dexter, who succeeded Shaun Udal as Middlesex skipper midway through last season, has cited the four-day game – and a return to Division One – as his priority during the coming months.

“Our main thing is the County Championship,” admitted the 26-year-old batsman, who will work without a formal vice-captain this summer.

“Everyone expects promotion and I’m not going to say we’ll get it straight away, but I think we are doing the right things and we are heading in the right direction.

“It does help that there’s less travelling in this division this year – that tires you out most. Having Essex and Kent coming down is going to make it a lot harder on the competitive side, though.

“I think they’re the teams to watch out for in terms of going for promotion, but I’m not going to look at them, I’m going to look at ourselves.”

Essex, who have already played – and lost – to Kent in the opening round of Division Two fixtures, will be without former Middlesex batsman Owais Shah, who is currently playing in the Indian Premier League.

Australian opener Chris Rogers, who was lured from Derbyshire to replace Shah when the ex-England batsman was released at the end of last season, will make his Middlesex debut in the Lord’s clash.

Spinner Ollie Rayner, on loan from Sussex, may also feature in the four-day opener – but his prospects may have been clouded after Middlesex announced that Jamie Dalrymple would be rejoining the club next month.

The 30-year-old off-spinning all-rounder left Lord’s to join Glamorgan in 2008 after falling out with former captain Ed Smith and captained the Welsh county for the last two seasons.

Ironically, Dalrymple will become available for Middlesex when they travel to Glamorgan to begin their t20 campaign in early June.