Middlesex have grown stronger since last year’s County Championship slump, says bowler

Toby Roland-Jones says Middlesex have been motivated by memories of last year’s slide to sustain their County Championship challenge this time around.

The Lord’s side fell away alarmingly during the second half of the 2014 campaign and only preserved their Division One status after a nail-biting final session of the last game against Lancashire.

But it has been a different story this year, with Middlesex squeezing past Sussex by just 20 runs in a thrilling finish on Monday to climb to second place in the table.

Although defending champions Yorkshire remain firm favourites to keep the title – holding a 38-point advantage and a game in hand – Roland-Jones insists he and his team-mates will push the leaders all the way.

“There was no lack of application last year – we were top after six games – but we all felt we threw away a chance to string a few wins together in that middle part [of the season],” said the Middlesex seamer.

“After what happened last year, a lot of us tried to spin that into a positive thing in the way we’ve looked to make sure we were really on it and how we’ve fought to maintain our position.

“We feel we’ve been a force in the four-day stuff and made ourselves pretty hard to beat. We’ve only lost once, that was at Yorkshire and I’m sure it was as good a game as they’ve been given all season.

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“The plan is to keep it that way – we want to really challenge and put ourselves as high up the table as possible and, if possible, put pressure on the Yorkshire guys above us.

“I think we can be pretty happy with the cricket we’re playing, but the challenge is to maintain that, look for improvement and keep pushing our standards. Hopefully that’ll stand us in good stead at the end of the year.”

Roland-Jones collected three wickets in each Sussex innings as the home side held their nerve to clinch a narrow victory at Lord’s and move ahead of Warwickshire and Durham in the table.

The in-form Dawid Malan was instrumental in Middlesex’s success as he struck 93 in their first innings and an unbeaten 120 in the second – which included a crucial eighth-wicket stand of 77 with Roland-Jones.

Sussex always looked in contention as they chased a target of 266 on the final day but, despite half-centuries from Chris Nash and Ben Brown, they fell just short.

That result gave Middlesex a much-needed boost after the disappointment of their Royal London One-Day Cup campaign, which looks likely to end in failure following successive defeats by Essex and Nottinghamshire last week.

Technically, the Lord’s side could yet qualify from Group B if they beat Glamorgan in their final 50-over game, while significantly strengthening their net run-rate and hoping other results go in their favour.

“One thing we spoke about was the importance of back-to-back wins and following up good performances with another one, and maybe there was a little bit of stuttering in the way we went about it,” added Roland-Jones.

“Putting the whole thing together and supporting batsmen when they’ve got scores or vice-versa with bowlers is something we haven’t managed to do over the whole 100 overs of the game, to really challenge.

“There are a lot of good players in there who have played good one-day cricket along the way, so it is frustrating.

“But sometimes the best way to forget about things like that is to go straight into a four-dayer – and win it.”

Middlesex could recall one-day captain Eoin Morgan, who has been rested during the past week, for Monday’s match against Glamorgan at Lord’s, which gets under way at 10.30am.

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