Vitality County Championship Match Preview: Northamptonshire v Middlesex

Vitality County Championship Match Preview: Northamptonshire v Middlesex

The two relegated teams face each other this week

Middlesex travel to Northampton this week for a battle between the two relegated teams of last season. They met twice in 2023, the first time in a repeat of this fixture in the second week of the season, the game ending in a seven wicket win for Northamptonshire, neither side reaching 200 in any innings. In the return fixture at Lord’s, Middlesex required 323 in 92 overs and despite an unbeaten century from Sam Robson, failed to get home by one run. A similar tussle this week will certainly keep the spectators entertained.

The batting deficiencies of both sides was the main reason for their struggles last year and those problems resurfaced for Northamptonshire in the last round at Hove. They put together a solid enough first innings, when asked to bat first against a Sussex attack containing a fit Ollie Robinson and the young West Indian quick Jayden Seales. Most of the batters contributed, Luke Procter top scoring with 92, to post a total of 371. In reply Sussex made 478/9 declared, quick fire runs at the end of the innings meaning they could put some pressure on the Northants batters, with 76 overs left in the game. That pressure led to wickets tumbling and when bad light and rain ended play Northants were 170/9, a lead of just 63 with 21 overs potentially left in the game. Middlesex will certainly be hoping to expose those batting frailties and have a seam attack that could do so, albeit not helped by the Kookaburra ball.

Northamptonshire will likely field the same eleven as last week, having two spin options in Rob Keogh and Saif Zaib, who between them accounted for six of the nine Sussex wickets to fall at Hove. The also have the leg spinner Alex Russell in their squad, but he has yet to play a first class game.

Middlesex played out a high scoring draw against Glamorgan in the first round, a double century from Ryan Higgins helping them to 655 in reply to Glamorgan’s 620/3 declared. All the batters spent useful time in the middle, while the bowlers had a slightly less productive outing. They played five seamers, with Joshua Caires the main spin option, although Leus du Plooy bowled some of his part time left arm orthodox. It may be they will play an extra spinner this week, bringing in slow left armer Nathan Fernandes, who figured prominently in the preseason matches, primarily as a batter. This would allow one of the seamers, probably Tom Helm to be rested.

Middlesex look the stronger outfit, but taking twenty wickets will be a tough ask with the Kookaburra ball.

Key players:

Northamptonshire are looking to build solid batting performances and skipper Luke Procter will need to lead from the front. He top scored in the Sussex match with 92 in the first innings and 41 in the second and will be hoping to put a disappointing 2023 behind him. He made a permanent move from Lancashire in 2018 and now at 35-years-old will want to help reinvigorate the Northamptonshire side while improving his current first class average of 33.56 before hanging up his boots.

Ryan Higgins was the key player for Middlesex in the last round and he remains vital to their success. However, in a competition where taking 20 wickets is the key, Ethan Bamber was the pick of the Middlesex bowlers last week. He is still only 25-years-old and having taken 41 wickets in last season’s Championship, is now the leader of the Middlesex attack. As long as he stays fit he will be hoping to push for higher recognition, having finished the 2018 Under-19 World Cup as England’s joint leading wicket-taker.

Team News:

There are unlikely to be any changes to the squad that travelled to Hove.

Northamptonshire squad (probable): Luke Procter (c), George Bartlett, Justion Broad, Michael Finan, Emilio Gay, Rob Keogh, Lewis McManus (wk), Gus Miller, Karun Nair, Alex Russell, James Sales, Ben Sanderson, Chris Tremain, Saif Zaib

There is no reason to believe Middlesex will not take the same squad to Northampton, with the likelihood that Fernandes will play. Another option is left arm orthodox spinner Thilan Walallawita, although he has not played in the Championship since 2022, when he took one wicket in two games. Middlesex still have not announced any overseas signings.

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

Weather and Conditions:

The current forecast is for a dry first two days with showers coming in from late on day three into the final day.

The Kookaburra ball is negating anything the pitches might offer and wickets could be hard to come by. The captain winning the toss will likely insert the opposition, but the team batting first should still be able to post a score.

Date: 12t-15 April 2024

Time: 11:00

Ground: County Ground, Northampton


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