Middlesex will be trying to revive their white-ball season at Lord’s against one of the toughest T20 opponents out there in county cricket, Hampshire.
Despite having had strong teams on paper, Middlesex have only progressed from the group stages of the domestic Twenty20 competition on two occasions, first in 2005 and then in 2008 when they emerged victorious at Finals Day. In 2014, they won just two of their matches in the inaugural NatWest t20 Blast. One of them, however, was against Hampshire: Paul Stirling’s 64 was more than double the next highest score of the match as Middlesex won by 50 runs.
Hampshire went on to finish third in the group stage and reach the semi-final. In the here and now, as Middlesex languish second from bottom, Hampshire are second, level on points and with a game in hand over leaders Gloucestershire. At the Ageas Bowl two weeks ago, Owais Shah racked up 58* to sink Middlesex once again. He may not be playing first-class cricket any more, but the leading English Twenty20 run-scorer proved he still knows a thing or two about the shortest format.
The game will also provide the opportunity for James Vince to audition for an England spot. Named in the T20 squad to face New Zealand, and following on from a career-best 99* against Kent, a hefty contribution with the bat would make him very hard to overlook for a T20I debut.
Paul Stirling thumped a 241-ball 254 for Middlesex Seconds against Glamorgan last week, which followed a superb 146 for Ireland against the UAE. Before that were scores of 88 and 90 in the T20 Blast. Even his disappointing 13 against Gloucestershire came off just four balls. While his bowling might still be too hittable for top-level cricket, when he gets that right too, he can be a match-winning all-rounder as well as a game-changing batsman.
Will Smith’s name may not stand out on the Hampshire team sheet, but with six wickets at an economy of 7.42 (Hampshire’s best), his off-spin could play a vital role in this encounter. He has opened the bowling in T20s this season, and with Middlesex’s aggressive top order, the tone for the match could be set in the first few overs – if Smith goes the distance, Hampshire could face a steep target or find defending a total extremely difficult.
Middlesex have a long injury list, with Dawid Malan, Nathan Sowter, Joe Burns and Ravi Patel all missing for this encounter, although Patel is expected to return next week. They also have to do without Steven Finn and Eoin Morgan, who are part of the England ODI squad. Nevertheless, they have put forward a strong squad with enough quality players to put up a challenge against the white-ball specialists.
Hampshire’s overseas bowler Fidel Edwards has flown off to the Caribbean Premier League, a void filled by Australian seamer Jackson Bird. The inclusion of Pakistani T20 specialist Yasir Arafat will ensure that the visiting side are not short of international-standard pace options.
Middlesex squad: James Franklin (c), Kyle Abbott, Andy Balbirnie, Nick Compton, Neil Dexter, Nick Gubbins, James Harris, Ryan Higgins, Harry Podmore, Ollie Rayner, Toby Roland-Jones, John Simpson (wk), Paul Stirling.
Hampshire squad: James Vince (c), Jimmy Adams, Yasir Arafat, Gareth Berg, Jackson Bird, Danny Briggs, Michael Carberry, Liam Dawson, Sean Ervine, Owais Shah, Will Smith, Adam Wheater, Chris Wood.
Weather and conditions
High temperatures of around 20 degrees, getting cloudy later in the evening but otherwise dry and fine. Middlesex passed 200 on their last outing here, so hopefully another good track will offer lots of runs.
Date: 18th June 2015
Umpires: Steve Gale & Graham Lloyd
Odds (SkyBet): Middlesex 5/4, Hampshire 8/13