Middlesex bowler feels five wins might be enough to secure County Championship this year

Middlesex bowler Tim Murtagh. Pic: Gavin Ellis/TGS Photo

Middlesex bowler Tim Murtagh. Pic: Gavin Ellis/TGS Photo - Credit: Archant

Middlesex seamer Tim Murtagh has predicted as few as five victories could be sufficient to clinch the County Championship title this season.

The new rule change – under which visiting teams are automatically offered the choice to bowl first – has led to a surfeit of batsmen-friendly pitches across the country in the opening rounds of the competition.

Consequently, the vast majority of fixtures have so far resulted in draws – only three teams in Division One have wins to their name after four rounds of matches.

Defending champions Yorkshire won 11 of their 16 games in 2015 – with runners-up Middlesex winning seven – but the experienced Murtagh does not think anywhere near that many victories will be needed this time.

And, while the 34-year-old and his fellow Middlesex bowlers have largely found wickets hard to come by this season, he is maintaining an open mind on how the toss rule could pan out.

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“There are some very good teams out there and it’s going to be hard work throughout the whole year,” said Murtagh. “Obviously spinners will come more and more into it as the summer goes on.

“It might be that the team winning the championship wins possibly only five or six games, which is a bit different to what we’ve been used to in the last few years.

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“There’s less grass on the wickets than usual at this time of year – I think groundsmen are reluctant to leave much grass because of the toss rule, so it has been tough in these first few weeks.

“It’s going to make us bowlers work harder for our wickets – coming up with different plans and learning to bowl on these flatter wickets is not necessarily a bad thing.

“If you ask a batsman, it’s the best thing they’ve come up with for a long time, and if you ask a bowler they’re probably not going to be in favour – but I’m a bit more on the fence in terms of the bigger picture.

“If England want to produce good quick bowlers they’re going to have to learn on flat wickets before they play Test cricket. Ultimately in the long-term that might hold them in good stead.”

As well as championship points, local pride will also be on the line when Middlesex begin their next Division One fixture on Sunday, against Surrey at The Oval.

The derby clash has been missing from both teams’ schedules since 2013, when Surrey were relegated, and Murtagh – who began his career with the south London club before moving to Lord’s almost a decade ago – is relishing its return.

“It still means a lot to me and to all the players here,” Murtagh added. “We haven’t played Surrey for the last couple of years but we had some really good battles with them before that.

“Surrey have got a strong squad – it’s always been like that even though they haven’t played in Division One for the last couple of years – and they’ve got world-class players like Kumar Sangakkara and Jason Roy.

“So it’s going to be a tough game, but one we’re looking forward to. It’s good to have that fixture back on the list and it adds a bit of extra spice for both sets of players.”

Middlesex skipper Adam Voges is expected to return to the side after injury, while seamer James Harris, who also sat out this week’s rain-affected draw against Nottinghamshire, is also likely to feature at The Oval.

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