Middlesex star eager to resume County Championship challenge against Surrey

Middlesex's John Simpson

Middlesex's John Simpson - Credit: EMPICS Sport

John Simpson has urged Middlesex to pick up where they left off in the County Championship as they resume their four-day campaign with a derby against Surrey.

Despite their recent slump in white-ball cricket, Middlesex lead the Championship table by 13 points going into the first of their last six games – the Surrey clash that begins on Thursday at Lord’s.

All of Middlesex’s four-day fixtures at Lord’s so far this season have been drawn – but they triumphed in their last two Division One matches, away to Yorkshire and Somerset.

“It’s been difficult to get results at Lord’s. The wickets have been pretty flat and turgid so it’s been tough cricket over four days,” said Simpson.

“I guess that does place extra pressure on going away and winning but that’s what good sides do – they go away from home and compete and force wins.

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“If there’s a side that’s capable of pulling together and doing that again, it’s us. We had two fantastic wins at Scarborough, then down at Taunton, so we’ve got some good momentum in red-ball cricket.

“Obviously this is a local derby, which puts a little bit more importance on it, and it’d be nice to beat Surrey again, carry on that momentum we have and really cement our position at the top of the table.

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“If you’d said we were going to be in this position at this stage of the season, I think any team in the country would have bitten your hand off for that and it’ll be an exciting six games.”

Middlesex also have fixtures at Lord’s to come against fellow title contenders Durham and Yorkshire, as well as trips to Warwickshire, Nottinghamshire and Lancashire.

Their hopes of success on three fronts ended this week when they bowed out of the Royal London One-Day Cup, losing to Surrey by five wickets at Lord’s in a match reduced to 16 overs a side by rain.

That result put paid to Middlesex’s hopes of reaching the last eight, but Simpson and his team-mates still have a quarter-final to look forward to in the NatWest T20 Blast.

Middlesex must travel to last year’s T20 runners-up Northamptonshire on Tuesday (6.30pm) after ending their South Group campaign with back-to-back defeats against Essex and Gloucestershire.

“It was disappointing not to finish with wins, but to get to the quarter-finals is still a fantastic achievement,” added the Middlesex wicketkeeper. “I think we’d be the first people to hold up our hands and say our white-ball cricket hasn’t been good enough in recent years.

“But we’ve shown in our performances this season that we’re a very dangerous side and we’ll go there and see what happens.”

Meanwhile, Middlesex bowling coach Richard Johnson believes seamers should still aim to reach the 50-wicket mark in the Championship despite the unfavourable pitches they are playing on this season.

Tim Murtagh and Toby Roland-Jones – both of whom have featured in all but one of Middlesex’s four-day games this year – have so far captured 31 and 30 wickets respectively.

Johnson, who spent 16 years as a seamer for Middlesex, Somerset and England, said: “The challenge for groundsmen now is to find a balance, something that helps both sides.

“As a bowler you don’t mind not having the ball seaming around all over the place, but you’d like to see it go through to the keeper properly so that, if you do get a bit of movement or swing, your edges will carry. I think that’s something we’ve been lacking this year – the wickets have generally been low and slow without any seam movement, which is quite hard work.

“If you can get over the line, you actually get more satisfaction because you’ve had to work hard for wickets, rather than a green seamer where you just run up and nip it round corners and bowl sides out for 180.

“There is a satisfaction in working hard and having to bowl a side out the hard way, but a few of these wickets have been so dead that there is no way of bowling sides out.

“In a full season, you should still be looking to get your 50 wickets – you might not be getting 80 but you should be aiming for 50 and, even on the wickets we’re playing on, there are opportunities to do that.”

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