Middlesex’s Rayne man is hoping for a dry spell

IT’S no wonder that Ollie Rayner has settled in so quickly at Lord’s – the on-loan off-spinner finds himself in a fairly familiar situation.

Rayner, whose contract with Sussex is up at the end of the summer, has been handed a month’s loan to put himself in the shop window by making an impression at Middlesex.

That means the 25-year-old is back in direct competition with his former Sussex team-mate Tom Smith – now the senior spinner in the Middlesex squad following Shaun Udal’s decision to retire.

And, with pitches likely to be greener and seam-friendly before warmer weather arrives, it seems inevitable that Rayner and Smith will have to battle for a single spot when Middlesex get their County Championship campaign under way next week.

“We played a lot of second team cricket together and the occasional one-dayer and it was part of the move that did concern me in a way,” said Rayner.

“I was concerned about how it would affect Tom. I tried to be sensitive about that, but I’m at a stage of my career where I need to kick on and think about myself a bit more selfishly in this respect.

“But Tom’s been fantastic about it – I think they told him they might be getting a spinner – and so has everyone else. They’ve welcomed me really well and I feel part of the squad already.

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“It’s notorious for not being a good part of the year to bowl spin, but the pitches last year were a lot drier than anyone anticipated.

“Most people play seamers out of tradition rather than necessarily judging what the pitches are doing.

“Usually teams will play one spinner anyway, so hopefully I’ll be that man and I’ll be able to control an end if nothing else. It’s down to how I perform and how the coaches see fit to select the side.”

The two counties have agreed to review Rayner’s loan deal in mid-May, although Sussex can recall him before that time and much may depend on whether their number one spinner, Monty Panesar, is selected for England or not.

In the meantime, Rayner – who is also a useful lower-order batsman and slip fielder – is concentrating on proving his worth at Lord’s, where the departure of former captain Udal leaves a void to fill.

“I played a lot against Shaun in the past – we’ve always got on well and talked about spin and he’s given me a lot of guidance,” added Rayner.

“I don’t think he ever thought I might succeed him at Middlesex and yes, those are big shoes to fill, but hopefully I’m at a stage of my career where I can start doing that.

“Over the winter I’ve made batting more my focus – these days, unless you’re a Murali or a Mushtaq, you do need to contribute at the crunch end of the innings, and hopefully that’ll help me earn my place.

“Regardless of whether something permanent pops up or not, Middlesex is a very exciting prospect for me. A move from Sussex could well be on the cards and I’d certainly be very happy coming here.

“From what I’ve seen and heard over the winter, I think Middlesex are in a very good place and, if I’m not still here at the end of the season, I hope I’ll be able to come back and celebrate something with them.”

Middlesex play a three-day match against Cambridge University at Fenner’s from Saturday, their final warm-up game before the County Championship gets under way on April 14.