Middlesex bowler promises to push Yorkshire all the way for County Championship title

Tim Murtagh has pledged to keep fighting for the County Championship crown as Middlesex begin a crunch spell of three games against their title rivals.

Middlesex, currently second in the table, take on fourth-placed Durham at Chester-le-Street on Friday before another away trip to Warwickshire, who lie third.

Any less than victories in both games will leave them with little prospect of catching defending champions Yorkshire, who are currently 38 points clear with a game in hand and visit Lord’s in September.

The experienced Murtagh insists they will press the favourites as hard as they can – although he would also consider a first runners-up spot since 1995 to be a worthwhile accomplishment for the Lord’s side.

“It’s Yorkshire’s to lose and it’s going to take something special for them to collapse and give away that points advantage,” said the 34-year-old seamer.

“But we’ll never give up until it’s mathematically impossible. We’ll keep chasing and try to put some pressure on them, starting at Durham, and we’ll go up there with confidence.

“We haven’t won up there for a while – I can’t remember winning a Championship game there since I’ve been at the club, so that’d be a nice one to tick off. But we’ll have to be at the top of our game.

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“We’re feeling good about the way our four-day cricket’s going – but realistically, if you offered me second place now, I’d take that. It’d be quite an achievement for the club to do that for the first time in 20 years.”

Murtagh, who has been a mainstay of the Middlesex attack for almost nine years since his move across the Thames from Surrey, recently picked up his 500th first-class wicket for the club in their gripping 20-run victory against Sussex.

It was his 501st that proved crucial, with Sussex’s Ben Brown swinging a Murtagh delivery into the safe hands of skipper James Franklin to settle the contest in Middlesex’s favour.

It was an exciting finish to rival Middlesex’s victory over Durham earlier in the season at Lord’s – although that 187-run win in May is not one that holds fond memories for the Ireland international.

Murtagh strained a hamstring with only his second delivery of the match – and, although he managed to bat and score an unbeaten 22 in his side’s second innings, the injury sidelined him for the next five weeks.

“I managed to hobble out and slog a few runs, which was quite important at that stage, as we’d had a pretty spectacular collapse and weren’t too far ahead,” Murtagh recalled.

“It was mixed emotions for me. But I was delighted that we won against a good team and also for Jimmy Harris, who came in and bowled particularly well – probably the best spell of bowling I’ve witnessed in my career.

“He’s had a couple of tough years but he’s put a lot of time and energy into things and really pushed on this season. Toby [Roland-Jones] has also bowled fantastically well without getting the rewards he’s deserved.

“I’ve been in more of a supporting role, which is not something I’m used to but I’m more than happy to fill in – and hopefully next year that’ll be me up there again on the wicket-taking list as well.”

Dawid Malan hit his highest score in 50-over cricket as Middlesex rounded off their Royal London 50-over Cup campaign with an emphatic eight-wicket win over Glamorgan on Monday.

Malan hammered an unbeaten 156 at Lord’s to guide his side to victory – although results elsewhere in Group B meant that Middlesex’s already slim hopes of reaching the quarter-finals were extinguished.

James Harris took 4-38 to restrict his former county to 251-9 before Malan, who shared an opening stand of 139 with Paul Stirling (58), knocked off the runs with 10.2 overs to spare.

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