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Panthers can pinch it again

PUBLISHED: 13:38 20 May 2009 | UPDATED: 13:34 24 August 2010

SOUTHAMPTON, UNITED KINGDOM - JULY 26:  Eoin Morgan of Middlesex celebrates during the Twenty20 Cup Final match between  Kent and Middlesex at the Rosebowl on July 26, 2008 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Tom Shaw/Getty Images)

SOUTHAMPTON, UNITED KINGDOM - JULY 26: Eoin Morgan of Middlesex celebrates during the Twenty20 Cup Final match between Kent and Middlesex at the Rosebowl on July 26, 2008 in Southampton, England. (Photo by Tom Shaw/Getty Images)

2008 Getty Images

By Ben Kosky EOIN Morgan insists confidence is high in the Middlesex ranks as they prepare to launch their defence of the Twenty20 Cup. The Panthers are the team to beat this time after the shock run that swept aside Lancashire, Durham and Kent to claim t

By Ben Kosky

EOIN Morgan insists confidence is high in the Middlesex ranks as they prepare to launch their defence of the Twenty20 Cup.

The Panthers are the team to beat this time after the shock run that swept aside Lancashire, Durham and Kent to claim the 2008 title - their first silverware in 15 years.

And the Middlesex left-hander - who will miss their opening Twenty20 game after his call-up to the England one-day international squad - says the county are in no mood to relax their grip on the trophy.

"We were the surprise of the competition last year and set a high standard, but everybody believes we can go and win it again," Morgan told the Times.

"There are several players missing from that side, but we'll approach it the same way - fearless and positive and giving the players a licence to express themselves.

"The South group has always been a strong one - we had three of the four finalists last year. So if we manage to get through our group again there'd be a lot of positives to take into the quarter-finals.

"Last year we won pretty much every game and, as we found out, the momentum can take you a long way in Twenty20.

"The confidence we took out of winning last year's trophy will hopefully rub off on us again and, if we do well, it can have a massive knock-on effect on the County Championship and everything else."

As well as left-armer Dirk Nannes, who did not return to Middlesex this season, and Ed Joyce, who moved on to Sussex, the county are also shorn of the services of influential paceman Tim Murtagh.

Murtagh's torn hamstring is likely to keep him out of action until the end of June, while Alan Richardson is also struggling with a back problem, but Morgan believes the county's younger bowlers are capable of plugging the gap.

"Of course Tim Murtagh's a huge loss - he took over 100 wickets last year in all competitions," Morgan observed. "But we go with a policy of giving them a chance if they're bowling well.

"We've played a lot of young players over the last few games, people like Steven Finn, and it wouldn't surprise me if one of them came through and blew everyone away.

"It's a matter of hitting their straps and all of sudden they've got that momentum."

While Finn and co are vying for places in Middlesex's Twenty20 side against Surrey on Monday, the 22-year-old Dublin-born batsman will also be attempting to establish himself at a higher level when England take on the West Indies in a three-match ODI series.

The opening match takes place on Thursday at Headingley, with further games on Sunday and Tuesday - meaning Morgan should be available when the Panthers face Kent under the new Lord's floodlights next Wednesday.

"I went on the England Lions tour in the winter, now I'm straight in, which is awesome - it's like being fast-tracked in a way," added Morgan, who qualified for England last year.

"It was always an outside chance and it came as a surprise, but a good one to get so early in the season. I just hope an opportunity will arise where I can express myself and show everybody what I can do."

Morgan is also in the England squad for the Twenty20 World Cup, which is being held in this country next month.

All-rounder Neil Dexter, who was with beaten finalists Kent Spitfires last season, acknowledges Middlesex will face a stern task trying to retain the trophy over the coming weeks.

"I think it's always harder trying to defend the title, as we found last year with Kent," said Dexter.

"Kent were the underdogs when they won it in 2007, then last year we were one of the favourites - but everyone knows you're the team to beat and that isn't easy.


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