Second-team success strengthens Rayner’s case for Middlesex recall
Ollie Rayner believes his success in Middlesex’s second team has left him better equipped to press for a recall to the County Championship side.
The off-spinning all-rounder has struggled to hold down a regular place in the first XI this season and was left out of the squad for the four-day clash against Durham, with Tom Smith replacing him.
Instead, the 27-year-old was despatched to Merchant Taylor’s School, Northwood, to play for Middlesex’s second XI in a friendly against Hampshire, where he impressed with both bat and ball.
Rayner picked up four wickets in Hampshire’s second innings and then struck a classy 124 – the first time he had reached three figures since his maiden County Championship century against Nottinghamshire last year – to set up a two-wicket victory.
“Even if the standard’s not as high in the second team, it’s nice to remind yourself what you’re capable of doing,” Rayner told london24.com.
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“It’s good to have a breather and sort out some bits and bobs. It’s hard work going back to the second team, but they’re a good bunch and in a way there’s no real pressure.
“I felt very similar to the way I did when I was on loan [from Sussex in 2011], talking to the younger lads and trying to set an example. You know that people are looking up to you and need you to perform.
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“Scoring a ton and pounding out lots of overs has certainly done me good – up to then my longest spell this year was probably about nine overs – and obviously I’m dying to get back in the four-day side.
“It’s hard to keep ignoring people when they do well. Tom did well in the second team in the build-up to his selection and I feel this spell has really helped me as well.”
Traditionally, many slow bowlers tend to struggle with the early season conditions, and Rayner admits he found bowling particularly difficult during a near-freezing April.
He has been working with Middlesex bowling coach Richard Johnson to adjust his action and, while the results have been successful, the former Sussex man knows he faces stiff competition to regain his place.
As well as Smith – a close friend since their days together at Hove – he will also contend with the challenge of another left-armer, Ravi Patel, who is currently recovering from a wrist injury.
“I haven’t done the business with the ball in the first team – and, to be honest, I haven’t had much of a chance with the bat either because the batsmen have done so well,” Rayner admitted.
“The fact it was so cold at the start of the season didn’t help – I’ve got poor circulation and I was struggling with my grip. But Johnno and I have stripped back my bowling, tweaked it a bit, and it seems to be going all right.
“Ravi’s a very talented bowler as well and he’s probably only about a month away from being fit again, so I need to get myself established before then.
“Hopefully, in terms of a package – batting, bowling and fielding – I should have the edge. There is rivalry, but at the same time we all help each other out and want each other to do well – that’s the sort of club it is.”
Rayner was included in the Middlesex Panthers side on Monday as they finally picked up their first YB40 win of the campaign, beating Yorkshire Vikings by six wickets at Radlett.
The Panthers travel to Leicestershire in their next group game on Sunday, before hosting Somerset at Lord’s on Tuesday.