Murtagh: Bowling first at Lord’s not a foregone conclusion

Murtagh: Bowling first at Lord’s not a foregone conclusion

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Malan, here in whites, has earned an England call-up following his white ball displays. Pic: Luke Adams

Tim Murtagh believes Middlesex’s opponents should think twice before exercising their option to bowl first at Lord’s this summer.

Under new rules passed by the ECB over the winter, visiting captains can opt to do away with the traditional coin toss and simply force their hosts to bat.

The measure was designed to guard against counties producing result pitches when at home, gambling on winning the toss and bowling first.

The ruling would seem to harm the tenants of Lord’s given their much vaunted seam attack of Steven Finn, James Harris, Toby Roland Jones and Murtagh himself – not to mention new arrival James Fuller, Tom Helm and Harry Podmore in reserve – an attack which has secured many early season wins in recent years.

However, stalwart Murtagh, who has made the Nursery End at the Home of Cricket almost his backyard in a decade with the county, knows the Lord’s wicket better than most.

And he suspects simply putting Middlesex in regardless could be more of a gamble than having a bat.

“I’m not sure it is going to be that much of an advantage for visiting sides to bowl first at Lord’s,” he said

“I think some games batting here first early season, strange as it sounds is actually not a bad thing. The wicket is often at its slowest on Day One, when it has been quite difficult to get nicks to carry so that you can bowl teams out.

“When it is soft like that it makes divots and dents which then make batting hard in the last innings, so teams might not want to take the option to simply bowl first.”

Despite Murtagh’s note of caution, with the exception of Gloucestershire who opted to toss, batted and subsequently lost to Essex, most visiting sides took up the offer to bowl in the first round of matches this week, although none of them won.

Division One new boys Surrey were beaten at Nottinghamshire despite a strong fight-back after following on, while in the other two matches in the top flight Warwickshire may have won but for the weather against Hampshire, yet Somerset may have been grateful for rain intervening on their visit to Durham.

In the other game which saw action in Division Two, Sussex used their privilege to put in hosts Northants and were promptly flayed for almost 500 by the time the weather had the final say there too.

So fears the rule change would swing the pendulum too far in the direction of visiting teams may be unfounded.

The jury is out for now, it seems, and Murtagh believes it will have to be assessed over the whole season.

He argues too that host clubs have other weapons at their disposal should all-comers simply insert, such as whether to do away with the heavy roller and thereby accelerate any deterioration in the wicket.

“I guess we will see after a year, but I don’t think it is a massive disadvantage to us when at home,” he continued.

“I certainly don’t see it as a turn up to Lord’s, bowl first win the game scenario.

“If a team is going to come here and bowl first we might take the heavy roller option away, so it doesn’t flatten out those divots for the last innings where the opposition are therefore going to find it tough.”

Murtagh knows when it comes to life in NW8 there are other factors to consider such as the conditions prevailing overhead of the iconic Father Time weather vane.

Indeed, when it comes to Lord’s where cloud really does mean swing, often the sky above rather than the wicket beneath dictates tactics.

“A lot depends on the overhead conditions which can really throw a spanner amongst the works, Murtagh added.

“If we turn up the first couple of games and the sun is out, but the wicket looks a bit green, it might make it harder for teams coming here to work out what they want to do.”

So the mind games have begun and there is plenty for Warwickshire skipper Ian Bell to ponder on the journey south to London.

To toss or not to toss? That really is the question.

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