If you had said three matches into last season that Middlesex would be scrabbling for safety come September, you would have been greeted with suspicious looks.
A trio of wins had put the London side top of Division One, and thoughts momentarily turned to a title challenge. Four months later, against relegation rivals Lancashire, and they needed a second innings fight back to secure the draw which would keep them up.
New season, new ideas. The crumbly nature of their batting has hardened with additional age – in the form of Nick Compton, Adam Voges and James Franklin – and runs are flowing. A heroic win over Somerset last week capped off a first round stalemate with Nottinghamshire, which saw Middlesex bat out the final day with grit and determination some doubted they possessed.
For Durham, the trip down south is a memorable one. Last time they visited Lord’s, in late September 2014, they left with the One-Day Cup, after beating Warwickshire. A dark, claggy afternoon meant a match with little sparkle but in early season conditions we should hope for better this time round.
Durham are once again looking strong candidates for the Championship, and after the recent news of council approval for their new floodlights, 2015 could be a year to remember for the club.
In the absence of Australian Chris Rogers, who is now a successful component of their national side, compatriot Adam Voges was expected to provide the same weight of runs. Two games in and Voges is fulfilling that requirement, carrying on his 2014/15 Sheffield Shield form which saw him named the competition’s best player for his remarkable 1,215 run tally. Clocking up 331 runs for Middlesex with an average of 82 already, the club will be hoping he can contribute more in the next month before he also joins up with the Australian national squad.
While Middlesex’s batting came under scrutiny at times last season, for the way in which wickets would tumble after the top order were dismissed, this year’s outlook is far more determined. As such, Durham’s bowling will need to be at their best if they are to remove all 20 wickets, with Chris Rushworth leading from the front. Rushworth has already claimed 19 first-class wickets in 2015, and as he looks to push his case for an England call-up, there is no better time to impress than in front of the national selector Angus Fraser.
Tim Murtagh is the surprise inclusion after picking up a back injury on the second day in their win over Somerset last week. The bowler played no further part in the match and there were concerns he’d be out recuperating. Toby Roland-Jones and Tom Helm are both out through injury.
Middlesex team (in batting order): Sam Robson, Nick Gubbins, Nick Compton, Adam Voges, James Franklin, Neil Dexter, John Simpson (wicketkeeper), Ollie Rayner, James Harris, Steven Finn, Tim Murtagh
For the third match running, Durham go with the same team, as they look to maintain their unbeaten record. Youngsters Paul Coughlin and Ryan Pringle will make up the final two spaces of the 13-man squad, having performed impressively for the second XI, with Coughlin getting the nod over Onions.
Durham team (in batting order): Mark Stoneman, Keaton Jennings, Scott Borthwick, Michael Richardson, Calum MacLeod, Paul Collingwood, Phil Mustard, Usman Arshad, Paul Coughlin, John Hastings, Chris Rushworth,
Weather and conditions
An overcast opening day gives way to showers on Sunday before conditions improve for the rest of the match. Lord’s pitches will be offering bite at this time of year, and the course of the game could be decided by who wins the toss.
Date: 2nd – 5th May 2015
Ground: Lord’s, London
Time: 11:00 am
Odds (via Skybet): Middlesex, Evens, Durham 5/6