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As Middlesex prepare for the 2013 season, they will reflect on a relatively successful 2012. On their return to the top flight, finishing third in the County Championship and almost making the semi-finals of the CB40 competition was encouraging. But Middlesex do have a number of issues which need addressing if silverware is a real goal.
Perhaps the biggest is the middle-order in first-class cricket. The batting last year was well led at the top by the experience of Chris Rogers (second-leading run-scorer in the Championship) and Joe Denly, who made over 800 runs, but Neil Dexter and Dawid Malan both averaged in the mid-30s and a number of batsmen who had major successes in 2011 also experienced difficulty in Division One. Most notably, Sam Robson and keeper John Simpson, who averaged over 50 and 40 respectively in 2011, fell back in 2012. Robson clearly struggled at the top, with just 687 runs at an average of 26, and Simpson managed 279 runs at just over 15.
The batting in coloured clothing was very mixed. Run rate cost Middlesex a CB40 semi-final spot but it was certainly an encouraging campaign, with Rogers, Malan, Eoin Morgan and Paul Stirling all notching up centuries. With Morgan on the outer fringes of the England Test side, he will play more for Middlesex, which is a boost in this format especially. Whether Middlesex can advance to the semi-finals of the Yorkshire Bank 40 (as it is now) will be a test of their character and depth.
The addition of Adam Voges should aid the T20 campaign but there needs to be a serious assessment of the sheer scale of runs needed for success. Despite a promising CB40, the Panthers were abysmal in the T20, with the batsmen managing only five fifties in the entire competition. It's also the case that higher scores are needed: last year, with the exception of one freak score of 200+, the next-highest total was 161 and it was downhill from there. More runs is obviously essential. Basics are the priority in this format.
One of Middlesex's strong points for this season will be their seam bowling stocks. The arrival of England Lion James Harris will be a major boost, bulking up the already strong pace department spearheaded by Toby Roland-Jones and Tim Murtagh, who took 110 wickets between them in 2012. Middlesex will still be looking for support from allrounders Gareth Berg and, more pressingly, Ollie Rayner, who took just 15 wickets in ten Championship games, which was disappointing. With Steven Finn on England duty it is unlikely he will have a major impact, so there is perhaps even more emphasis on other players to step up and fill the void.
Perhaps the most important aspect of 2013 could be the opportunity for new faces in the side. Players to look out for in 2013 across all formats are allrounder Josh Davey, wicketkeeper-batsmen Adam Rossington, left-arm seamer Gurjit Sandhu and spinner Ravi Patel, all of whom got a taste of top-level cricket last year but none cemented their place. It could really help to breed competition if some of these players pushed for spots.
A top three finish in the County Championship could be more difficult than last year, one-day cricket still offers limited opportunities but exciting talents are coming through.
Likely Championship side
What I love Lord's. Absolutely love it there, so much history and memories.
What I'd change Put more emphasis on the T20 competition. Losing seven out of ten games was humiliating. It's the main attraction for fans, packed grounds deserve more success.
Jack Mendel writes about cricket on the Sideline Agenda and runs his own blog, Stumpycricket. He tweets hereFeeds: Jack Mendel
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Jack Mendel writes on SportOnTap.com. After many years of despair following Middlesex, and hoping for the day he will miraculously become good at cricket and play for them, he has given up hope and instead resorted to writing. @jackmendel4