SSCC Preview: Middlesex v Northamptonshire

SSCC Preview: Middlesex v Northamptonshire

Can Sam Robson force his way back into England plans? Pic: Alex Livesey

From county champions to relegation to Division Two – a fall from grace doesn’t quite cover Middlesex’s past 12 months.

But with wounds licked, frailties discussed and grievances aired, focus must very quickly turn to the present as opposed to the past at Lord’s.

Whether they like it or not the lower echelon awaits for the Londoners but, with a desire to return to the top tier an immediate necessity, a fast start is a near essential.

It’s no secret that wins are what result in promotion, particularly with the substantial points incentive compared to a draw, but Middlesex will have little time to settle in as they welcome Northamptonshire to cricket HQ in the opening week.

A yo-yo side between the divisions, Northants are not a team to be discounted either, possessing a team spirit beyond most in the land – with the talent and capabilities to back it up.

Last year just five points separated them from promotion, with no side able to match the nine wins from 14 wins they accrued across the season.

Indeed, had they not picked up a five-point deduction for a slow over rate, their tally of 222 would have sat alongside Nottinghamshire’s – the second side promoted from Division Two.

They too are a side that must plaster over the scars however, with the more pressing issue coming with the bat as only Glamorgan picked up fewer than the 29 batting points they accrued across the campaign.

This is a game that both teams are therefore likely to see as big in their bid for promotion, with a bulging bag of points potentially vital in their bid for late-season success.

Add in the fact that Warwickshire and Sussex – the league’s other likely promotion candidates – face off at Edgbaston and you have yourself a potential early-season belter.

Key Men

To say that the England Test top order is far from settled would understate the problems revealed by two bleak winters.

But it’s not so long ago that Sam Robson was the latest cab off the rank atop the order, averaging 30 from seven Test matches including one century and one 50, the last game coming in 2014.

He may have averaged nearly 40 last year – the best for a Middlesex batsman – but Robson’s 785 runs is a figure he’ll be desperate to improve on, particularly with two centuries only to his name.

As stand-in captain he’s the man required to lead from the front – in truth, this opener is a man too good for second tier cricket, but he has to prove it first up.

First morning at Lord”s in April with a new cherry in hand, New Zealand international Doug Bracewell must be licking his lips at the prospect of his new Northants venture.

A feature of the one-day sides, not since 2016 has the fast bowler played for his country in the longer format but discount him at your peril.

At 27, experience is well and truly on his shoulders – with his influence potentially making the difference between draws and victories for Northants this year.

Team News

Sam Robson, who made his captaincy debut last week against Durham MCCU, will once again lead the side out in the absence of Dawid Malan, who again sits this one out on an enforced break, following a busy winter international schedule with England.

He leads a 13-man squad that sees Eoin Morgan and Nick Gubbins both remain sidelined through injury, although Paul Stirling returns from international duty with Ireland and is named within the squad.

Middlesex squad: Sam Robson (c), Tom Barber, Hilton Cartwright, Stephen Eskinazi, James Harris, Tom Helm, Max Holden, Tim Murtagh, Ollie Rayner, Toby Roland-Jones, John Simpson (wk), Paul Stirling, Robbie White

Finger surgery has ruled Ben Duckett out of the opener for his side, missing out on the chance to put his difficult off-the-pitch winter to one side.

Club captain Alex Wakely is back in charge for another season, with New Zealand international Doug Bracewell among the charges he can choose from.

Northamptonshire squad: Alex Wakely (c) Doug Bracewell, Josh Cobb, Steven Crook, Brett Hutton, Richard Gleeson, Rob Keogh, Richard Levi, Luke Procter, Adam Rossington (wk), Ben Sanderson, Rob Newton

Weather & Conditions

Those given an early inspection of the Lord’s pitch may have been left wondering where the strip actually was, such was the level of green on top. Add that to the overcast conditions and natural April difficulty and you could see a day for the bowlers.

Date: 13th – 16th April 2018
Time: 11.00am
Ground: Lord’s
Odds: Warwickshire 4/7, Sussex 11/8

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