Middlesex eager for Essex challenge in day-night clash
PUBLISHED: 17:30 23 June 2017
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Defending champions visit Division One leaders
Next week’s round of pink ball, day-night Specsavers County Championship matches is sure to bring added drama to Middlesex’s intriguing visit to Chelmsford to play surprise Division One leaders Essex.
Middlesex’s players have a major itch to scratch in the game, too, when it starts on Monday afternoon, as their failure to beat Essex at Lord’s in late April – when bad weather saved the visitors after the home side had perhaps delayed their second innings declaration too long – still rankles with James Franklin and his men.
Franklin, the Middlesex captain, knows that defeating Essex this time is vital if the champions are to mount a credible challenge for successive four-day titles on the back of this week’s crushing innings & 64 run win against Yorkshire at Lord’s.
Essex, however, themselves warmed up for next week’s clash with an innings & 164 run demolition of bottom side Warwickshire.
Essex also have Mohammad Amir, Pakistan’s potent left-arm fast bowler, making his county debut as the overseas player replacement for New Zealand paceman Neil Wagner, although it was an outstanding match return of 14-128 from Simon Harmer, the best match figures by an Essex spinner for almost 50 years, which saw off Warwickshire.
Franklin feels Middlesex’s pre-season experience of playing with a pink ball under lights, against MCC in Abu Dhabi, could give them an edge but saod: “The natural light should last up to the scheduled finish time of 9pm at this time of year, so the floodlights might not be too much of a factor.
“The pink ball, though, does tend to do a bit more than the red ball. In Abu Dhabi, I remember that our coaches flicked pink and red balls at us during batting practice and the pink ones did move around a bit differently. The seam on them is a little bit more pronounced.”
Both Middlesex and Essex won their last match despite each having two players away on England Lions duty. Nick Gubbins and Tom Helm were missing for Middlesex, with Dan Lawrence and Jamie Porter absent for Essex.
This, however, merely underlines the strength in depth in both counties’ squads and Franklin added: “There will be some more rotation needed, with another Lions match being played at the end of next week, but hopefully we will take some momentum into the Essex game after the win against Yorkshire.
“We have also seen players come in and take their chances this season due to the absences of others. Paul Stirling, for instance, has done extremely well over the last few games and scoring his first championship hundred last week will be a bit of a monkey off his back. There is no doubt about his talent and I’m particularly pleased that he has done so well playing his natural attacking game.”
Essex captain Ryan ten Doeschate, meanwhile, has admitted the club can start to dream of championship-winning glory after bagging four victories from their first seven games back in the top tier.
“I think we’ve earned the right to do that now,” said ten Doeschate. “Obviously our first priority, without stating it explicitly, was to make sure we retained Division One status. Without really getting ahead of ourselves I think 110 points at the halfway mark almost guarantees that. Now is the time to be brave and really push on.
“It is fairly evident that now is the time to start pushing for results and give ourselves the chance to be around the top at the end of the season. I think we are a far better team than we were six weeks ago, when we played Middlesex first time, and certainly the confidence from winning four games in this division is high.
“I think it is fair to say we were a bit timid at that stage. We also took a serious drubbing against Lancashire and got away with it in the first game. But since then, and in the way we’ve played, I think we’re a far more confident side and we’re looking forward to playing the champions at Chelmsford.”