Vitality County Championship Division Two – Match Preview: Middlesex v Glamorgan

Vitality County Championship Division Two – Match Preview: Middlesex v Glamorgan

We’re underway and Middlesex host Glamorgan at the home of cricket

The season kicks off with a full round of County Championship fixtures and two of the counties, who would like to think they will be challenging for promotion from Division Two, meet at Lord’s. The last time these two sides met in the Championship was at the back end of the 2022 season, Middlesex winning by 10 wickets thanks to Toby Roland Jones taking seven and a Mark Stoneman century.

It is hard to imagine how difficult it must be at present for ground staff to prepare adequate playing surfaces and batters must be having some sleepless nights. The Middlesex batters were particularly woeful last summer and other than the addition of Leus du Plooy in the middle order, they will line up the same. Sam Robson and Mark Stoneman have 439 first class appearances between them, including 18 Tests and are a rarity in county cricket; openers who have not been volunteered for the role. Given the batting weaknesses they will be keen to set a solid foundation.

Du Plooy and Ryan Higgins were two to prosper with the bat in 2023, scoring 1236 and 995 runs respectively and will be essential to Middlesex producing more competitive totals. Otherwise the batting looks rather shaky. Neither Max Holden nor Steve Eskinazi had a memorable 2023, but Holden will likely bat at three or four. Eskinazi appears to be out of contention having not played in the pre-season games and following a disappointing time in the Big Bash, scoring just 44 runs from four starts. In his absence 19-year-old Nathan Fernandes has been given a chance with the bat in the warm up matches. He has played just seven T20 games for the first team and those primarily as a leg spinner, but has scored runs for the second XI. Another option is Joe Cracknell, who featured in the Championship side at the end of last season.

The loss of John Simpson to Sussex leaves a sizeable hole in the batting and Jack Davies is set to get the gloves. In the warm-up game against Hampshire, Davies made 45 going in at six, but it would be a brave move to bat him so high. Joshua de Cairies is another youngster in the mix following steady performances last summer, particularly with his off spin, although it might be difficult to get the ball out of the hands of the Middlesex seamers. It is here that Middlesex’s strength lies. Toby Roland Jones, Tom Helm, Ethan Bamber and Ryan Higgins provide a real threat, particularly with the likely weather conditions. As yet Middlesex have not announced any overseas signings so there is still the opportunity to strengthen the side, which will be needed if they are to mount a serious promotion challenge.

While Middlesex have had friendlies against Hampshire, Kent and Essex leading up to this game, Glamorgan have had little outside preparation with just a match against Cardiff UCCE. They have also seen two of their key players put out of action before the season even starts.

Glamorgan have struggled at the top of the order for a number of years, using various stop gaps. David Lloyd moved up the order for the 2021 season, initially with Nick Selman and then with Andrew Salter. Eddie Byrom was signed from Somerset for the 2022 season, but has only played half the Championship fixtures since then because of injuries and he is now out having dislocated his shoulder. His opening partner last season was another makeshift option Zain ul-Hassan, who posted two half centuries. Salter and Lloyd have now departed so new coach Grant Bradburn will be searching around again. In the Cardiff UCCE match he went with Billy Root, who had an excellent 2023 scoring 884 runs at 52.0, but that was at six and he is a rather fidgety starter and not best suited to facing the new ball. Another option is Asa Tribe, a 20-year-old from Jersey who has been signed on a rookie contract and is yet to make a first team appearance. He scored 47 batting at three for the students against Glamorgan in the warm up game. A left field selection would be Joe MacGregor who played two matches for Glamorgan seconds last September, scoring a century opening against Northamptonshire twos. He is currently captaining Loughborough UCCE and made 99 as an opener against Kent this week.

There will not be the reassuring sight of Marnus Labuschagne coming in at three until early May, so Colin Ingram will be deputising. Sam Northeast, the new Championship captain, batted at three in the warm up game, with Kiran Carlson at four. Carlson passed the 1000 run mark in 2023 and it is the middle order that will be the key to Glamorgan posting a competitive total. Both Northeast and Carlson spent useful time in the middle against the students. Chris Cooke was also in the runs last season and has become one of the best glovemen in the country.

Glamorgan relied on the spin of Carlson for much of last season, but have signed leg spinner Mason Crane on loan from Hampshire. Given Carlson did not bowl against the students and Crane took four wickets obtaining significant turn, it would appear that Crane will play. Last season the pace attack lacked penetration, especially in the absence of Michael Neser, but they will have high hopes for overseas signing Mir Hamza, who is available for the first seven Championship games. Hamza has a strong first class record, with 434 wickets at 22.40 and was brought in by Warwickshire for a couple of games last summer. Timm van der Gugten should have been sharing the new ball, but his troubles with injury have recurred, this time out with a calf strain. As cover Glamorgan have signed Craig Miles from Warwickshire for the next month. The tall seamer is used to travelling having gone on loan to Durham last summer and will certainly strengthen the attack. While James Harris and Jamie McIlory had positive seasons in 2023, taking 32 and 24 wickets respectively, their chances of success will be reliant on favourable pitch conditions. Ul-Hassan can also bowl medium pace and could act as a fourth seamer if Crane plays. The lack of bowling depth, highlighted by the injury to van der Gugten, means that a realistic promotion challenge is a way off.

Apart from the injuries, the big concern for Glamorgan is the lack of preparation. The weather has been awful in South Wales and while neither team has enjoyed a preseason tour, Middlesex look to have a big advantage. If the Middlesex batters can get some runs on the board, their bowlers should be able to complete the job, weather permitting.

Key players:

Ryan Higgins returned to Middlesex last season and immediately demonstrated what the Londoners had been missing following his move to Gloucestershire in 2018. He was their top Championship run scorer and second to Bamber in wicket taking last summer. Early season conditions should suit his bowling down to the ground.

Sam Northeast had a disappointing 2023 having topped Glamorgan’s run scoring in the Championship and Blast in his debut season in 2022. At 34-years-old, he will feel frustrated never to have broken into the England set up, even the Lions, but he has now been given the captaincy of the red ball team with the hope that he will be reinvigorated. He is part of a middle order that will be relied upon for the bulk of the team’s runs and looked in reasonable touch against the students.

Team News:

We are still awaiting an announcement regarding any overseas signings by Middlesex. Otherwise the main decision will be regarding the final batting slot, assuming everyone is fit.

Middlesex squad (probable): Toby Roland-Jones (c), Ethan Bamber, Henry Brookes, Joe Cracknell, Blake Cullen, Jack Davies (wk), Joshua de Cairies, Nathan Fernandes, Ryan Higgins, Max Holden, Leus du Plooy, Tom Helm, Sam Robson, Mark Stoneman

With injuries to Byrom and van der Gugten and the absence of Labuschagne, there will have to be some experimentation in the Glamorgan line up. It would be a shame to move Root to open, given his success last season at six. Crane looks likely to start, although the recruitment of Miles gives Bradburn more options.

Glamorgan squad (probable): Sam Northeast (c), Kiran Carlson, Chris Cooke (wk), Mason Crane, Dan Douthwaite, Mir Hamza, James Harris, Colin Ingram, Craig Miles, Jamie McIlroy, Harry Podmore, Billy Root, Asa Tribe, Zain ul-Hassan

Weather and Conditions

The current forecast is for light rain on the first two days, brightening up for the second half of the game.

Given the weather we have had the pitch is going to favour the bowlers, albeit lacking pace, so the team who can post a decent first innings total will be in the driving seat. Hopefully the weather will relent to allow a decent amount of cricket.

Date: 5th April 2024

Time: 11:00

Ground: Lord’s


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