Middlesex batsman aims to nail down regular place in County Championship side
Paul Stirling is seeking a prolonged run in the Middlesex side over the coming weeks to stake his claim for a regular four-day slot.
Stirling was drafted in for his fourth County Championship appearance of the season last weekend, opening the batting against Durham alongside Sam Robson.
And, despite managing scores of just three and eight in a low-scoring match at Chester-le-Street – which Middlesex won by 71 runs to stay second in the table – the Ireland international is hoping to retain his place for the remainder of the season.
Long regarded as a limited-overs specialist, Stirling is keen to prove his worth to Middlesex in four-day cricket as well.
“There’s still a lengthy amount of cricket this season, so it’d be nice to stay involved and score a few runs – that’s all you can do,” he said.
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“I came in strongly halfway through last season and did pretty well, getting four or five 50s and felt pretty comfortable coming in there in the middle order.
“This season I started in the first match, but didn’t play the next four or five, then I got another chance and felt pretty good. Sometimes that’s the way it goes.
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“You get a game here and there, or you go away and play with Ireland and you almost need to book your place again. It can be a little bit hit and miss.
“Hopefully I can go on and get a run of games and really cement my place, that’s the idea. It’s a long-term thing really, certainly for the rest of this season and moving forward in my career.”
Stirling, who turns 25 next week, enjoyed a fruitful NatWest T20 Blast campaign earlier in the season, when he struck three half-centuries and averaged almost 43.
However, a torn calf while on international duty in the ICC World T20 qualifying tournament ruled him out of all but one match in Middlesex’s Royal London One-day Cup programme.
Although the Irishman returned for their final Group B match against Glamorgan, hitting 58 and sharing a century stand with Dawid Malan to help clinch an eight-wicket victory, it came too late to keep Middlesex in the competition.
“It was just a badly-timed injury – a bit of a tear and that was me done for the next two weeks,” Stirling recalled. “But there’s not much you can do and it was nice when I got out there again, to get a 50 and help the team win.
“That performance against Glamorgan showed what we’re capable of and it’s definitely a tournament I look forward to every year. I feel it might be my strongest suit overall.
“You just get to go out and bat and not put yourself under too much pressure like in Twenty20, or try and dig it out like in the four-day stuff. I quite enjoy that, putting away the bad ball and hitting strong shots.”
Stirling’s chances of retaining his place for Middlesex’s next match, against Warwickshire, are probably enhanced by the foot injury that will keep Nick Gubbins out of action for the rest of the season.
But it was another Middlesex batsman who strengthened his claim against Durham – former captain Neil Dexter, a centurion for the first time since the early stages of the 2014 campaign.
Put in to bat at Chester-le-Street, Middlesex crumpled to 18-3 before Nick Compton’s 71 enabled them to recover to 196 – and they dismissed their hosts for 169 to take a first innings lead of 27.
Another dreadful start left the Lord’s side in trouble at 29-4 second time around, only for Malan (63) and Dexter (112) to put them back in control with a century stand.
James Harris (41) and Toby Roland-Jones (23) added valuable runs late on to steer Middlesex to 280 – and Harris then returned 5-71 as Durham were bowled out for 236 on the final morning.
The win means Middlesex still trail leaders Yorkshire by 30 points, but they do have a 16-point cushion over third-placed Nottinghamshire ahead of their clash with Warwickshire at Edgbaston, which gets under way on Tuesday.