North Middlesex captain urges his players to prioritise club’s title bid - and cancels trip to Amsterdam

North Middlesex captain Tom Nicoll is urging his players to put cricket first and prioritise the club’s title bid – and he has led by example, cancelling a trip to Amsterdam this weekend.

North Midd secured their sixth victory in a row on Saturday, beating Southgate – who started the day at the top of the table – by 105 runs and moving two places up into second spot.

The Crouch End outfit have now beaten all three of the other top four sides in succession, leaving them six points from the summit – and Nicoll is keen to be able to pick his strongest line-up in the final four matches.

“I’ve been trying to stress the importance of availability and urge people to change their plans,” said the skipper.

“It’s not often you get this opportunity so I’ve said to all the lads ‘look, let’s do everything we can to try and make sure it doesn’t pass us by – get to training, cancel holidays, do everything we can’.

“Joel [Hughes], one of our senior bowlers, was meant to go away last week, but he changed his plans, and I’m changing my plans this week – hopefully it makes a difference.

“I’m meant to be going to Amsterdam at the weekend for a festival with some mates. But a guy at the club said to me ‘in five years’ time, if you finish second or third [this season], you’ll kick yourself’.

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“Availability makes a huge difference. You’re keeping the same core of players together through the whole season. Especially in these last few games we’ve had a core team with good availability and everyone’s settled into their role in the team.

“I think in the first four or five games we struggled with getting batting orders right and working out what role each player had, but now we’ve finally got that and if you can prevent it from changing too much in these crunch games then that should help you.”

Nicoll chose to bat away against table-toppers Southgate on Saturday and, although his side initially struggled to 45-4, Mitch Murray struck 105 while Adam Holmes contributed 44 as the visitors declared on 222-9 after 65 overs.

Nicoll then led the way with the ball, claiming figures of 3-20, while Ed Bird (2-24), Connor Nurse (2-26) and Hughes (2-45) took two wickets apiece as the hosts were bowled out for 117 in the 35th over.

Murray’s century in the commanding victory followed 16-year-old Joe Cracknell’s unbeaten 87 in the previous outing – a similarly comprehensive eight-wicket triumph over Richmond, who had also started the day at the top of the table.

“It’s been quite a long time coming really,” said Nicoll. “The bowling is undoubtedly our strength and the batting got us into a few problems earlier in the season – but we’ve got a bit of form now, which is great.

“Evan [Flowers] also scored a very valuable 48 not out last week. He’s usually been our best batter. I’ve been scoring a few runs and Mitch’s match-winning 100 was on quite a tricky wicket with good Southgate bowling, so hopefully he can continue that into these last four games.

“We’re the form team I’d say, we’ve got a reasonable run-in so hopefully we’ve got a good chance.”

North Midd enjoyed more success last Wednesday when they won the Middlesex Twenty20 title for the second time in three years, beating Shepherd’s Bush at Brondesbury’s Harman Drive ground.

That secured a place at the south-east area finals day on Sunday, and Nicoll’s side beat Essex champions Chelmsford in the final four. The skipper hit 87 off 51 balls as North Midd posted 168-9, and he then took 2-5, while Hughes claimed 3-8, as Chelmsford were skittled for 83.

That set up a regional final against Hertfordshire outfit Radlett, who posted 191-6. North Midd’s reply began well as they reached 66 off six overs, with Cracknell notching a rapid 45 – but wickets then tumbled and they were all out for 132.

“It’s great fun playing in that competition,” said Nicoll. “We won it two years ago, we were runners-up last year in Middlesex and then we won it this year.

“We then beat Chelmsford quite convincingly, and Radlett are a very good team. It was quite a big toss to lose really. But, again, we had poor availability – we only had three or four recognised first-team players. We came close, we were just a bit light on the batting front in the final.”