Middlesex batsman welcomes move to 50-over matches next season

Middlesex’s Paul Stirling believes next season’s switch to domestic 50-over cricket will help him to improve on a disappointing summer with the bat.

Big hitter Stirling, who opens the Panthers’ batting in limited-overs games, has made just one big score this season – an unbeaten century at Leicester in June.

That came in the YB40 competition, where the Ireland international has averaged 35 overall, but he is hoping for a better return after 40-over cricket is scrapped next year.

The ECB have opted to replace the YB40 with a new 50-over tournament – and Stirling, who has played that format regularly for his country over the last few years, feels he will benefit from that change.

“One of the key things I look at is converting starts, because I tend to get to 20 or 30,” Stirling told the Gazette. “I’ve got to work on batting for longer and getting those big scores.

“This year it hasn’t happened at all – one hundred and no 50s tells its own story. But the 50-over format has worked out best for me throughout my career, so I’m pretty confident of keeping that form up and doing well.

“You get that extra 10 overs in the middle to build an innings, whereas in 40-over cricket you always feel there’s that time-bomb ticking. Especially with an extra man in the ring, it feels as if you can take that extra risk.

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“That’s what’s been so costly for me – the risk hasn’t come off. I think batting through the innings is going to be more likely in 50 overs.

“You can bring up your hundred in the low-40 overs and then have a good crack at the end. So hopefully things will change next year and I can get used to turning those 30s into hundreds.”

Stirling endured a lean time in the Friends Life t20 tournament, where he averaged just 14.75 with a top score of 33 – but the Panthers made significant strides and only narrowly missed out on the quarter-finals.

However, their YB40 campaign has been an almost identical tale in each of the past two seasons, when they finished runners-up in their group but failed to make the final four.

A poor start to the tournament – Middlesex gleaned just a point from their first three games – has ultimately been their undoing again.

“For the third year running, it’s been the starts and maybe the ends as well,” Stirling reflected. “We seem to get those runs in the middle, where we win three or four games, and it’s really disappointing.

“Consistency’s the key – we’ve got to put it together throughout a tournament. Hopefully over the next few years, if the group stays together, we can keep building on it.

“We’ve seen that we’ve got better and better in t20 over the last couple of years. It’s still close but no cigar – but if that pattern continues we’ll be pushing to get into the finals.

“We had that camp in Jersey for three days before the t20 and that helped massively. We were focused on t20 alone – previously we’d just gone straight into it.

“This year we were prepared and I think we did play much better, especially in the first couple of matches, whereas we’ve tended to lose those in the past.”

Stirling is likely to make his final Middlesex appearance this season on Monday when they end their YB40 campaign with the return match against Leicestershire at Lord’s on (1.45pm).

Although little will be riding on the game, the Irishman insists he and his team-mates are determined to go out on a high.

“All we could do in our last game [against Gloucestershire] was put on a performance and win, and hopefully we’ll do the same against Leicestershire,” said Stirling.

“We’re professional cricketers – we go into every game wanting to win and this will be no different, especially at Lord’s. You never take that for granted and we want to perform well.”