Glamorgan welcome Middlesex to Sophia Gardens for round three of the County Championship, sitting at the top of Division Two. Both drew in week one, although Middlesex were the dominant team against Derbyshire, based primarily on a first innings score of 401. With a strong seam attack they have the potential for promotion if their batsmen can keep posting scores. Meanwhile in Cardiff, Glamorgan held on against Durham, thanks in no small part to the weather.
In round two Middlesex and Worcestershire supporters were deprived of a Bank Holiday weekend watching cricket, as they were “resting”, while Glamorgan were causing an upset at Trent Bridge. Clearly it is sensible to give players a chance to recover during the season, but it seems unnecessary in the first two weeks. It has however given Sam Robson the opportunity to recover from a blow to his thumb suffered in a preseason game and he made an appearance for the 2nd XI this week. The batting is also reinforced by the arrival of Australian, Peter Handscomb. It is three years since his last Test appearance, but he was the top run scorer in this year’s Sheffield Shield competition, as he captained Victoria to the final.
Glamorgan have certainly boosted their hopes of promotion with what was ultimately a fairly comfortable win against Nottinghamshire. The fact they were able to dismiss Nottinghamshire twice, with wickets shared amongst the seamers and for the batters to each contribute, reflected a strong team performance. The question is how they will fare in the latter half of the season if they lose both Michael Neser and Marnus Labuschagne to international call ups. They had a strong start last season but then dipped dramatically in the second half of the campaign. There is an over-reliance on the four main seam bowlers (Neser, Michael Hogan, Timm van der Gugten and James Harris) and the second string will need to step up if they are to maintain a challenge for promotion.
The Glamorgan batters will be facing another strong seam attack this week, led by overseas recruit Shaheen Shah Afridi, but if they can post a decent first innings score, they will have belief in their ability to cause problems for what is, on paper, a strong Middlesex side. History favours the Londoners, with Glamorgan not having recorded a win against them in Cardiff since 1991.
In the continued absence of Eddie Byrom, Glamorgan need David Lloyd to create some stability at the top of the order. They have struggled in recent years to find a reliable opening pair and Lloyd, previously a middle order batter, was pressed into the role last season. A naturally attacking stroke-maker he made a good start, scoring 828 runs at an average of 34.5 in the 2021 County Championship. With the added responsibility of captaincy this season, the job has not got any easier, but having been caught off a no ball in the first over against Nottinghamshire he took advantage, scoring an important 76 runs.
Middlesex supporters will be excited by the arrival of Shaheen Shah Afridi, who currently sits fourth in the ICC Test bowler rankings. With 95 test wickets at 25.08, capable of bowling regularly at 90mph, not to mention his left arm over action, he will be a handful for any county batter. There can be no argument about using the adjective “fast” to describe him.
While Glamorgan await the return of Byrom, the largely unsuccessful experiment of opening the batting with Andrew Salter looks likely to continue. Seamer Jamie McIlroy is recovering from a side strain and Ruaidhri Smith needs to prove his fitness so will likely have to await his chance once the T20 competition starts. Harris is expected to come back into the starting XI and it may be time for Dan Douthwaite to be given an opportunity in the lower middle order.
Glamorgan squad: David Lloyd (c), Kiran Carlson, Chris Cooke (wk), Dan Douthwaite, James Harris, Michael Hogan, Marnus Labuschagne, Michael Neser, Sam Northeast, Andrew Salter, Callum Taylor, Timm van der Gugten, James Weighell
Despite their captain Tim Murtagh suffering a hamstring tear in the Derbyshire game, the Middlesex seam attack remains a potent one. As mentioned already, Afridi has arrived at Lords, while Martin Andersson is fit again. The batting also looks strong, with a top three all with Test match experience (Robson, Mark Stoneman and Handscomb). They are followed at four by Steve Eskinazi, who scored a century in the Derbyshire game.
Middlesex squad: Peter Handscomb (c), Shaheen Shah Afridi, Martin Andersson, Ethan Bamber, Josh De Caires , Tom Helm, Max Holden, Sam Robson, Toby Roland-Jones, John Simpson (wk), Mark Stoneman, Thilan Walallawita, Robbie White
Weather and Conditions
The forecast is for a mix of sunshine and cloud over the four days, with the chance of an odd shower. Temperatures should be in the high teens.
While the appearance of pitches across the country at this time of year seems to cry out for a bowl first decision, the expectation is that there will be a fair contest between bat and ball throughout the scheduled four days. However, do not expect too much pace in the pitch.
Date: 21st-24th April 2022
Ground: Sophia Gardens
Odds (SkyBet): Glamorgan 8/11; Middlesex 1/1