Middlesex batsman targets elusive ton in crucial Durham clash

Joe Denly is determined to end his three-figure hoodoo and help reinforce Middlesex’s County Championship title challenge as they prepare to face rivals Durham.

Denly scored 77 – his third Championship half-century of the campaign – as the Lord’s side forced themselves back into the title frame with a 10-wicket thumping of second-placed Sussex.

But the 27-year-old, who averages just under 34 in four-day cricket this season, has yet to record a ton – and he knows that needs to change when Durham visit Lord’s for a crucial game starting tomorrow Friday.

“I’ve felt for most of the year like I’ve been getting there – I just haven’t got those big scores and that’s been frustrating,” the former Kent batsman told the Gazette.

“Again in the Sussex game I got going on a pretty tough track, against a good bowling attack, and batted quite positively, but I only managed to get 77.

“I haven’t got a hundred yet this year and that’s certainly something I need to correct in this latter part of the season. Hopefully I can get a few – there’s still a lot of cricket left.

“Sam Robson and Chris Rogers have been our main run-getters this year, but Chris is still away for a few games and we can’t rely on them all the time anyway. Others have to step up and contribute.”

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Another of Denly’s half-centuries this season came during Middlesex’s first meeting with Durham, which eventually ended in a draw after the visitors were set a tricky run-chase on the final day.

The north-eastern county are currently 4.5 points ahead of Middlesex and have a game in hand, but Denly remains confident that his side can stay in contention for top spot as the season reaches its climax.

“We can take a lot of confidence from Hove – what it’s done is to keep us up there and still involved in the title chase,” Denly added. “Now we’ve got a massive game against Durham.

“Durham are always going to be a decent side – they’ve won the County Championship in recent years. They’ve got a good bowling attack and Graham Onions is a big bowler for them.

“They’ve got an experienced batting line-up and they bat a long way down. But I think they’re at their strongest when they’re playing at home, so hopefully the fact that we’re at Lord’s will help.

“I think we’ve got a very good squad and a few of our lads seem to be coming into form now. I don’t see any reason why we can’t be up there challenging for the top spot.”

While Onions is available to play at Lord’s, so too is Middlesex’s Steven Finn after the pair were both omitted from England’s squad for the third Test against Australia.

With James Harris and Toby Roland-Jones still struggling with injuries, the return of Finn is welcome news for Middlesex, who are also likely to include England one-day international Eoin Morgan in their side.

That could mean a reshuffle of the batting line-up, with Dawid Malan appearing somewhat vulnerable at the top of the order after failing to find his form in the County Championship this season.

While Malan has been highly successful as the Panthers’ opening bat in limited-overs cricket, it had been widely expected that Denly would fill in as Robson’s opening partner following Rogers’ call-up to the Australia side.

But Denly – who has also impressed in the shorter forms of the game, hitting two half-centuries in the Friends Life t20 and an unbeaten 99 in the YB40 – says he is happy to remain in the number three slot.

He recalled: “It was spoken about, but I was quite happy at number three and enjoying it there. We just felt we didn’t want to disrupt the batting order too much, so that’s where I stayed.

“It’s not something I’d say I’m not going to do – if the management want me to open, I’ll open, but at the moment I think they’re happy with me at three.”

Denly moved down to bat at four on Wednesday night and top scored with 67 against Hampshire as Middlesex came agonisingly close to claiming a quarter-final place in the Friends Life t20 tournament.

Victory in their final South Group match at Southampton would have taken the Panthers into the last eight at the expense of Essex Eagles, but they finished on 182-7 – just eight runs short of Hampshire’s total of 190-3.