Middlesex slow bowlers speed up to help McMillan Cancer Support

Middlesex spin twins Tom Smith and Ollie Rayner are working together for a good cause this weekend – and they wouldn’t mind extending that partnership into next season.

Left-armer Smith and off-spinner Rayner are both running the Brighton half-marathon on Sunday, along with their former Sussex team-mate Andrew Hodd, to raise funds for McMillan Cancer Support.

And Smith is hopeful that he and Rayner can also operate in tandem for promoted Middlesex this year, with the wickets in County Championship Division One expected to be more spin-friendly than those in the second tier.

“Ollie seems to follow me everywhere I go,” admitted Smith, who also plays club cricket for Hampstead CC. “We were both playing at Eastbourne Cricket Club years ago and I still can’t shake him off!

“There’s good competition between us, but we’re good friends as well and hopefully we can twist the coach’s [Richard Scott’s] arm and convince him to go down a two-spinner road when the season starts.

“In the modern game, especially playing with a white ball, two spinners has become more common. But the England-Pakistan Test series has shown the importance of spin in the longer form of the game as well.

“Hopefully people are starting to pay attention to that. The coach feels that the two big differences from Division Two are going to be faster seam bowling and high quality spin bowling.

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“That’s obviously encouraging for me to hear – depending on whether we play one or two spinners, it’s possible I might have a bigger role in the side and I’ve got to be prepared for that.”

Smith decided to enter Sunday’s race in aid of McMillan, who provide practical, medical, emotional and financial support for people affected by cancer after his father was diagnosed with the illness last year.

And, as well as helping a cause close to his heart, training for the race has also coincided with a gruelling period of pre-season training as Middlesex prepare for top-flight cricket for the first time since 2006.

“At the moment we’re in four days a week, working hard on weights and fitness stuff, so to be getting some extra miles in our legs is probably a good thing,” said Smith.

“I think we’ve pushed the boundaries again in pre-season training – once you’ve won a trophy in Division Two you realise you’ve got to be that bit stronger and fitter to do well at the top level. But we’re itching to go and it’s nice to have that hunger at this time of the year.

“The signing of Joe Denly is a great addition to the squad and we’re looking to be competitive again this summer.”

According to Smith – who has set himself a target of one hour 45 minutes – the main competitive element to Sunday’s race is for the Middlesex duo to score an early success against Sussex by finishing ahead of Hodd.

He added: “There’s a little bit of competition and we’re keeping that Middlesex-Sussex rivalry going, but the one to beat is Ollie’s girlfriend – she did a lot of cross-country at school!

“I think against Ollie I’ve got the advantage because I’m smaller than him and I’ve got shorter legs, so it might be harder for the big fellow trudging around with aches and pains.”

To sponsor one or both of the Middlesex pair in Sunday’s race, you can visit Rayner’s page at: http://www.justgiving.com/Bethany-Langridge0 or Smith’s page at: http://www.justgiving.com/TomSmith11