Middlesex 2016 preview: a look ahead to the new season at Lord’s
- Credit: Gavin Ellis/TGS Photo
It hardly feels like anything resembling summer just yet, but Middlesex’s preparations for the new campaign are already at an advanced stage.
After a training camp in South Africa, Middlesex were back in London last week for their first pre-season friendly against Surrey, with three more games to come before the serious business begins on April 17.
The Lord’s side finished second in the County Championship last year – their best performance in two decades – although their deficiencies in limited-overs cricket remained all too evident.
Overall, various issues appeared to need addressing in the intervening months until pads and gloves were donned once again – so it’s now time to look at how successfully Middlesex have approached those.
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There was little continuity at the top last season, with James Franklin standing in for both four-day skipper Adam Voges – who was called up to Australia’s Ashes squad – and one-day captain Eoin Morgan.
Morgan, who is also in charge of England’s one-day side, quite correctly stood down and Middlesex have opted to split his job, with Franklin taking over again for the 50-over Royal London Cup.
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Opening batsman Dawid Malan will now lead the side in the NatWest T20 Blast – a deserved promotion for the talented left-hander and one which could be viewed as an audition for an expanded role in the future.
Voges returns to take the reins in the County Championship, although international commitments could mean that one of Middlesex’s other two captains ends up filling in again for part of the four-day programme.
As with the captaincy, Middlesex ended up chopping and changing their overseas slots far more frequently than was ideal during the course of last season.
Batsman Joe Burns stood in for his fellow Australian Voges – until he was also called up for international duty – while Kyle Abbott, Mitchell McClenaghan and Junaid Khan shared bowling duties in the one-day competitions.
McClenaghan, who was the best of the latter bunch, returns for the T20 tournament alongside another New Zealander, Middlesex’s star signing Brendon McCullum.
The Kiwi batsman, who recently retired from international cricket, is one of the biggest names in the limited-overs game and his arrival should certainly, at the very least, boost ticket sales at Lord’s.
Middlesex were heavily reliant on the likes of Malan and Nick Compton for runs last season but, although the award of an ECB central contract to Morgan should have freed up some finance, they have not added to their four-day batting line-up.
Compton could also be required for England’s Test side, while former captain Neil Dexter’s departure to Leicestershire also lessens the team’s batting options.
However, that should mean increased opportunities for the likes of Nick Gubbins, Stephen Eskinazi and George Scott – while England Under-19 prospect Max Holden cannot be too far off a senior debut.
Aside from the signing of McCullum, the only other new recruit over the winter is seamer James Fuller from Gloucestershire, regarded as a one-day specialist.
It is fair to say Middlesex can hardly get any worse in T20 cricket – since they won the competition in 2008, they have only once qualified for the knockout stages.
However, the arrivals of McCullum, McClenaghan and Fuller, along with the appointment of Malan to lead the side, should strengthen their chances of going further this time.
The Royal London Cup, which is now being played under a two-group, nine-team format, is split into two blocks – and the first of those, which requires Middlesex to play four times in eight days, will be crucial.
A slow start has generally been the county’s downfall in the competition of late but, if they can change that pattern, playing three of their last four games at Lord’s should give them a better chance of progressing.