Middlesex are back in Division One after an absence of five years and will be looking to cement their place at the top table. They have retained the services of overseas batter Pieter Malan, who joined them for the latter half of the 2022 season, but have been deprived of fellow South African, Keshav Maharaj after he sustained an achilles injury whilst celebrating an international wicket.
Last year’s skipper Peter Handscomb has moved onto Leicestershire for the first two months of the season and no replacement for Maharaj has yet been announced. Otherwise the core of the squad is much as last year. Eoin Morgan has retired and Nathan Sowter moved to Durham.
The one significant signing is that of Ryan Higgins, who left Middlesex at the end of the 2017 season, having come through their academy system. The 27-year-old all-rounder has been making a name for himself in all formats for Gloucestershire and started his return to Lords early in order to help secure promotion at the end of last season. His bowling skills bolster the already potent seam attack of Toby Roland-Jones, Tim Murtagh, Tom Helm and Ethan Bamber and he will likely fill the number seven slot in the batting line up.
Spin bowling in the Championship in 2022 came primarily from all-rounder Luke Hollman, with his leg breaks. His 19 wickets came at 52.26 and it could be argued that with their seam attack, his services were not a key part of Middlesex’s bowling threat. The recruitment of Maharaj would have filled that hole and it is yet to be seen whether a similar overseas replacement will be brought in. Ian Salisbury has joined as a consultant coach following his departure from Surrey last year. He has been working with Hollman and slow left armer Thilan Walallawita as Middlesex look to develop their own spinners.
John Simpson was the star with the bat in Championship cricket last summer, amassing 1039 runs with three centuries. Mark Stoneman also reached the thousand run mark. Max Holden continues to develop as a middle order batter, posting 749 runs at 39.42, while Steve Eskinazi’s championship appearances were limited by injury. He made up for it in the One-Day cup where he was the tournament’s top run scorer with 658 runs at 94.0, including four centuries from his eight matches. He was also the top the county’s top run scorer in the Blast with 431 runs at 33.15, with a strike rate of 151.76. Sam Robson fills the remaining slot in the top order.
The Championship captaincy has been passed to Roland-Jones, while Murtagh has been given a player-coach role following the departure of Jade Dernbach back to Surrey. Eskinazi continues as captain in the Blast and was also named as this season’s One-Day captain before being picked up by the Welsh Fire in the Hundred draft.
While promotion in the Championship was clearly the highlight of the 2022 season, performances in white ball cricket continued to be less convincing. They finished eighth in the South Group of the Blast with just four wins from 14 games. They fared better in the One-Day Cup, narrowly missing out on a quarter final spot thanks to net run rate.
In preparation for the 2023 season, Middlesex have been making use of a marquee at Merchant Taylors’ School to train on grass pitches, giving them plenty of exposure to the moving ball. They have the resources to compete in the First Division and head coach Richard Johnson will just be looking for more consistent performances. In the Blast, it is difficult to see where the impetus for improved results will come from, but there is still the opportunity for a significant overseas signing.
A recent article in the Daily Telegraph highlighted Middlesex’s perilous financial position, with the ECB voicing concern. The most recently published accounts, up to the end of 2021, showed a loss of £952,000 and a further loss is predicted for 2022. This has all but erased the club’s net assets, although they are one of the few not laden with debt from ground development. The lack of a home ground does however limit their ability to generate income and it is through cost cutting measures that they are predicting a surplus for this coming season. Middlesex continue to look at how to reduce their dependence on Lord’s, having used Radlett for some white ball games and playing one championship game at Merchant Taylors’ School in 2022. There have previously been suggestions of building a new outground in Barnet.
Steve Eskinazi has made steady progress in the Middlesex set up, having moved to the county from Perth, Western Australia at the age of 19. He holds a British passport through his mother and became eligible to play for England in 2019. Now aged 29, he will be looking at impressing the selectors again this season, particularly in white ball formats. He was part of the victorious Perth Scorchers team in this year’s Big Bash, contributing two half centuries in the nine matches he played. Unfortunately he only managed eight championship games last year because of a fractured thumb and he will be looking to improve on his modest first class average of 32.62.
One to watch
24-year-old fast-medium bowler Ethan Bamber was listed on the ECB website as one of the young players to keep an eye on in 2022. He played in ten of Middlesex’s championship games last year taking 25 wickets at 38.32. He has spent the winter playing Grade Cricket for Adelaide University, where he has put in some strong performances, ending with 34 wickets at 14.91 from his 11 matches. He is surrounded by high class seam bowlers at Middlesex and will undoubtedly continue to progress. As with all pace bowlers, the main ambition will be to stay fit.
Overseas signings: Pieter Malan (South Africa)
Ins: Ryan Higgins (Gloucetsershire), Nathan Fernandes (Academy)
Outs: Nathan Sowter (Durham), Eoin Morgan (Retired), Peter Handscomb (Leicestershire), Shaheen Afridi (Nottinghamshire)
Possible Middlesex championship XI
- S Robson
- M Stoneman
- P Malan
- M Holden
- S Eskinazi
- J Simpson (wk)
- R Higgins
- L Hollman
- T Helm
- T Roland-Jones (c)
- T Murtagh
How will they fare: Much is made of the difference in the standard of teams in the two divisions of the Championship, but I would expect Middlesex to be strong enough to avoid the drop come September. They have an excellent seam attack and a capable batting line up. The only issue may come if we have a summer like 2022 and spin becomes more of a factor. In the Blast they seem to have become stuck in a rut, not having made finals day since they won the competition back in 2008 and the squad changes do not point to that changing in 2023. The One-Day cup is a relatively open competition, dependent on availabilities and call ups to the Hundred.
Opening fixture: CC vs Essex on April 6 at Lord’s
Season Odds (SkyBet):
County Championship – 16/1
T20 Blast – 20/1
One-Day Cup – N/A