It’s high time Middlesex became a force in limited-over cricket again, according to Director of Cricket Angus Fraser.
With the exception of 2014, when First Division status was preserved on a nail-biting final day against Lancashire at Liverpool, the tenants of Lord’s have enjoyed an upward curve in Championship cricket in recent seasons, coming from bottom of Division Two midway through 2010 to runners up in the top tier last term.
By contrast, their performances in the shorter formats have been nothing short of woeful with the unexpected T20 triumph of 2008 a rapidly fading and distant memory.
Perhaps little surprise, then, that Fraser should confirm at the county’s pre-season media day on Friday what the winter recruitment policy had suggested – a renewed focus on white-ball cricket that he suggested had been neglected for too long.
“Somewhere along the line you have got to lean slightly towards one format or the other, but maybe in the past we have lent a bit too heavily towards the County Championship, so the real improvement we want to see this year is in white-ball cricket,” he said.
James Fuller, a winner of the Royal London One-day Cup last season has arrived from Gloucestershire, while Brendan McCullum will ignite the group phase of both the T20 and 50-over campaigns.
South African left-arm pace man Mitchell McClenaghan will also renew his acquaintance with Fraser’s men for part of the campaign. George Bailey is believed to have been engaged for the mid-season period while four-day skipper Adam Voges will be away playing for Australia.
“The cricketers we are picking now are to bolster our white-ball cricket,” Fraser continued.
“James Fuller will become a high quality red-ball bowler because he is a beast of an athlete and there is more potential there, but we have signed him for white-ball cricket initially.
“Brendan [McCullum] has only been signed for the white-ball period so that is a commitment there, and the player we are looking to sign in the eight-week gap in the middle, though he plays all forms of the game well, there is a white-ball slant there as well.”
All this emphasis on limited over cricket, and the T20 thrash in particular will have traditionalist supporters of the county who play at arguably the most iconic venue in world cricket squirming uncomfortably in their members’ seats.
So in a bid to quell any sense of unrest, the former England quick was quick to stress his conviction that playing positive cricket in the shortened form could lend momentum to a Championship campaign, in which Fraser is determined to press reigning champions Yorkshire harder than ever with a team he believes has finally lost its ‘mentally flaky’ tag.
“It is not a question of us taking our eye off the ball in Championship cricket as I believe doing well in white-ball will bolster our red-ball game, give us greater confidence and help us play with greater aggression,” he said. “Maybe that can help us be a bit more ruthless and win a couple more games.
“Yorkshire will be favourites again, deservedly so, and if they play as well as they have done they are going to prove hard to beat. Their challenge is to keep performing to that level and ours is, if they show any signs of weakness, to be there to pounce.”
“I think we won seven games last year and the points total we had has won the title on some occasions. And you could look at the Somerset game at Merchant Taylors’ School, which we would probably have won if the weather had not interfered.
“Then again there were a number of games we turned around exceptionally well after we were probably behind on first innings.
“It would be nice to grab hold of games earlier on and make them less stressful than they sometimes are to watch, but turning around games like that does show a growing character which was something which was questioned about us, and I wouldn’t say it was incorrectly labeled against us in 2014.
“Our psychologist did some work on that and I think to a large extent last year we sort of showed that there is more to us than maybe some people thought.”
Fraser did add one word of warning though, pointing to last year’s one-day finals as proof getting the balancing act right between white ball and red to flourish on all fronts is no easy task.
“It is a challenge because the four sides in the finals of white-ball cricket last year (Lancashire, Northants, Gloucestershire and Surrey) were all from second division of the championship,” he added. “So winning and staying in the first division of the championship does pre-occupy a lot of minds.”