There can be no more dramatic setting than Lord’s for a game that both Middlesex and Surrey must win in order to entertain hope of appearing in next month’s showpiece one-day final at the same venue.
The South Group is delicately poised as few sides have been able to build up any momentum, whether positive or negative, across the two fragmented blocks of Royal London One-Day Cup action.
What we can say for certain is that five does not go into three, with Somerset the only team to seal qualification and several counties locked on eight points.
Perhaps the advantage lies with such contenders as Kent and Hampshire, whose opponents both have nothing to play for in their final outing and thus may take the opportunity to rest some players amid a hectic schedule.
At least the equation is clear at the outset for these London rivals.
Their one-day campaigns have both followed decidedly different patterns.
Middlesex, under James Franklin, have been extremely inconsistent in this form of the game, with victories fitfully interspersed with defeats across both blocks. Sheer bloody-mindedness got them over the line in Sunday’s win over Essex, a testament to the character of their squad- tangible from afar.
Toby Roland-Jones has played some of his best cricket in this competition, taking 12 wickets, while Paul Stirling has plundered his way to three figures twice.
Surrey lost three of their opening four games but have fought back in style. Commanding defeats of Essex and Gloucestershire would most likely have been followed by two points against Glamorgan yesterday, only for rain to intervene; they might well have been in a much more advantageous position going into today’s fixture had that not proved the case.
In this format, momentum is probably on the Surrey’s side, but Middlesex have proved time and time again that they are prepared to defy the odds.
All eyes will be on Nick Compton who makes his return to first team cricket in this fixture.
Following a low-key appearance in the Second XI that yielded 20 runs in two innings, Compton starts the road back after his painfully public dropout of the England team. Doubtless, a hostile new-ball attack of Jade Dernbach and Tom Curran will be doing everything in their power to target the batsman on his return.
There are plenty more eye-catching strokemakers in the Surrey team than Rory Burns but the 25 year-old has been extremely effective in the Royal London One-Day cup this season.
Many have heralded the stalling of Burns’ career in first-class cricket, only for the keeper-batsman to issue a riposte through the 50-over competition; registering four fifties and averaging just shy of 85.
The inclusion of Compton will be what catches the eye of onlookers but Middlesex will be equally preoccupied with the injuries of several key individuals whose status is doubtful for this game.
Dawid Malan sat out the Essex win with continued groin pain and will be assessed on the morning of the match alongside skipper James Franklin, carrying a finger injury. The result of these fitness tests could be crucial.
Middlesex squad: James Franklin (captain), George Bailey, Nick Compton, Stephen Eskinazi, Nick Gubbins, James Harris, Ryan Higgins, Dawid Malan, Tim Murtagh, Harry Podmore, Toby Roland-Jones, George Scott, John Simpson (wicket-keeper), Nathan Sowter, Paul Stirling
The visitors are expected to name the same squad that appeared in the Glamorgan washout for the short trip north of the Thames.
Gary Wilson returned to the squad for the game but Zafar Ansari remains sidelined with his back injury.
Surrey squad: Gareth Batty (captain), Rory Burns, Sam Curran, Tom Curran, Steven Davies, Jade Dernbach, Aaron Finch, Ben Foakes, Mark Footitt, Stuart Meaker, Matthew Pillans, Jason Roy, Dominic Sibley, Freddie van der Bergh, Gary Wilson
Weather and conditions
After a dry July, August has at least started very poorly with heavy rain falling across the country yesterday. Speaking tentatively, the forecast looks cloudy but dry for tomorrow’s game.
Date: Tuesday 2nd August
Umpires: Rob Bailey, Nick Cook & David Millns
Odds (Sky bet): Middlesex 11/10, Surrey 8/11