Middlesex confident that new faces will help avoid repeat of County Championship relegation battle
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Angus Fraser is confident that Middlesex have recruited the right players to prevent a repeat of last year’s narrow escape from relegation.
The Lord’s side won four of their first six County Championship games in 2014, but an insipid Twenty20 campaign then spilled over into their four-day form for the remainder of the campaign.
Middlesex failed to win another Championship fixture and only survived in Division One by the skin of their teeth after battling for a draw against Lancashire that consigned their opponents to the drop instead.
Since that last-day drama at Old Trafford, Middlesex have lost talismanic captain Chris Rogers, along with batsman Joe Denly – who rejoined Kent – and all-rounder Gareth Berg, who has signed for Hampshire.
Australian batsman Adam Voges has replaced Rogers as skipper, while the club also brought Nick Compton back to Lord’s after a five-year stint with Somerset and signed ex-New Zealand all-rounder James Franklin.
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Former England paceman Fraser, who is Middlesex’s managing director of cricket, said: “We lost three first-team players and we had to find blokes to fill those slots.
“I think we’ve got the right men to do that and perhaps to perform even a little bit better than their predecessors. We’re delighted to have players of the quality of Compton and Voges in our batting line-up.
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“James has been batting at five for Wellington and he’s averaging in the high 30s – he’s more a batsman than a bowler these days, so I think we’ll certainly have plenty of depth to our batting.
“Lessons are learned all the time and we have to make sure our white-ball cricket doesn’t start to impact on our red-ball game the way it appeared to last season.
“Our pre-season trip to Dubai was very much white-ball focused, working on aspects of our game that we need to improve.
“We got a bit bruised last year and we don’t want to get into that hole again, fighting for our lives on the last day – although there were also positives in the way the group stuck together.”
Franklin, who has previous experience of county cricket with Essex and Gloucestershire, will not be available for his new side’s opening game against Nottinghamshire at Lord’s, which gets under way on Sunday.
Middlesex may be further depleted in the seam bowling department, with Toby Roland-Jones struggling to shake off a shoulder injury.
That could mean added responsibility on the shoulders of James Harris, whose first two years at the club were beset by injury problems, but the former Glamorgan seamer has performed impressively during Middlesex’s warm-up games.
Fraser added: “It is a big year for him. He’s had a couple of frustrating seasons so far but we know this bloke’s got something and he’s been bowling well.
“He’s been working on his batting as well and if he keeps doing that he’s certainly got the potential to be a genuine all-rounder, batting at seven or higher.”
Fraser is hopeful of securing a short-term overseas replacement for Voges – who has been called up to Australia’s Ashes squad and will therefore be unavailable after mid-May – during the coming days.
Voges will lead Middlesex during their first four Championship fixtures before handing over the reins to the new man, but could return to Lord’s later in the season.
“We made an early decision to appoint Adam and, if we’re honest, I don’t think anyone really thought he had much chance of being selected for the Test squad at that stage,” said Fraser.
“But he had an outstanding winter, thoroughly deserves his selection, and we have to react to what’s happened. We’ve identified someone else that we’re speaking to and that’s with the captaincy in mind too.”