Cricket returns to Derby on Friday after a long, wet winter, as they welcome Middlesex to the 3aaa County Ground for the home side’s first match of the season.
Middlesex however arrive in the East Midlands hot off the back of a walloping defeat of Northants, blowing away the memories of last season’s final day relegation, and will be walking out onto the pitch on the first morning (weather permitting) as firm favourites not only for this game, but for promotion back to Division One.
Derbyshire have strengthened their bowling line up over the winter, with the arrivals of the experienced Ravi Rampaul and overseas signing Duanne Oliver, this coupled with the return to fitness of last season’s Kolpak signing Hardus Viljoen. They will be hoping that the twenty wickets required for victory will be within their grasp. Derbyshire supremo Kim Barnett has set his side a target of a top four finish in the Championship and if they are to achieve that, then positive results against sides with the obvious quality of Middlesex are a must.
Middlesex also will be confident that 20 wickets will be found in the last column of their bowling analysis come the end of the match, with England bowler Toby Roland-Jones, Ireland bowler Tim Murtagh and the highly rated James Harris, it is easy to see why they will be confident.
It is no surprise that the main focus of this preview are bowlers, Derby has had an exceptional amount of rainfall and snow over the winter. The fact that the pitch is ready for cricket is nothing short of a miracle, and while prospect of Derbyshire’s head groundsman being nominated for sainthood is unlikely, I would imagine that the Derbyshire members will be extremely thankful for his and his team’s efforts.
The pitch however is bound to offer assistance to the bowlers and a result over the four days is highly likely, if the aforementioned rain stays away. For all but the most optimistic of Derbyshire fans, it is hard to look past a win from the southern marauders, they were champions of Division One just two seasons ago and have made a winning start to the season. So the sensible money would be on Middlesex, however for those who regularly read these previews will know that my advice on betting is as reliable as 1970s second hand Skoda.
Derbyshire have been seeking a dynamic and free scoring opening batsmen for years and in Ben Slater they finally appear to have a young player who is maturing into that role. Slater is a classy left handed batsman, free scoring and now building the resilience into his game to carry his success in the limited overs game into the first class format. Slater will be strapping on his pads on Friday, fresh off the back of an unbeaten double century in a warm-up game just last week. If Slater can continue this form, then Derbyshire will have an excellent platform for their innings.
Middlesex have so many key men, they could unlock a room full of safes, however in their squad they have a player which all sides would love to have, a player who adds balance to their side in James Harris. Harris, a player who has had his difficulties in his career, has had a renaissance recently and has become a genuine wicket threat, taking nine in their opening fixture along with 64 runs. If he can fire again, then Derbyshire may well have their backs against the wall.
Derbyshire have named a 12-man squad for the match, their battery of seamers all fit and firing and will be spearheaded by the South African duo of Viljoen and Oliver. The biggest selection headache that Derbyshire will have had in the lead up to the game is around their wicket keeper, with Gary Wilson selected ahead of Daryn Smit and Harvey Hosein, Smit could be allowed to be feeling the most disappointed after having scored an unbeaten century in a build up game this week. With one player to miss out, I see it being a toss up between Palladino and Davis for the player to miss out.
Derbyshire Squad: B Godleman (c), M Critchley, Davis, Hughes, W Madsen, D Olivier, T Palladino, R Rampaul, L Reece, B Slater, H Viljoen, G Wilson (wk)
Middlesex are without several of their big names for their visit to Derbyshire, Nick Gubbins, Eoin Morgan, Steven Finn, Dawid Malan and Steve Eskinazi are all absent, either through injury, or in the case of Malan by bequest of the ECB. It is hard to see Middlesex changing their eleven from the side that crushed Northampton last week, with a bowling attack lead by Roland-Jones, Harris and Murtagh.
Middlesex Squad: S Robson (C), H Cartwright, J Franklin, J Harris, T Helm, M Holden, T Murtagh, O Rayner, T Roland-Jones, G Scott, J Simpson (wk), P Stirling, R White
Weather and conditions
The weather in Derby in the lead up to this game has been wetter than an otter’s pocket and if there is a toss on Friday morning I will eat my hat. Despite groundman Neil Godrich’s best efforts, fully expect there to be more than a tinge of green to the pitch and plenty of help for the seamers. The weather looks set fair for the first two days of the game, however for the 3rd and 4th day umbrellas may be the order of the day.
Date: 20th-23rd April 2018
Ground: 3aaa County Ground, Derby
Odds (SkyBet): Derbyshire 7/4, Middlesex 4/9