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'One more year' - Tim Murtagh continues to poke fun at retirement talk

Middlesex stalwart determined to keep the enjoyment alive in return to top flight

Valkerie Baynes
Valkerie Baynes
We go again: Tim Murtagh is gearing up for another summer  •  Getty Images

We go again: Tim Murtagh is gearing up for another summer  •  Getty Images

Alongside "entertainment" another buzz theme has underpinned English cricket in recent times - "enjoyment". It's been key to a career spanning more than two decades for Tim Murtagh but now, as an end draws near in the playing sense at least, enjoyment of each game has assumed a little more prominence.
Murtagh, Middlesex's ever-reliable swing bowler, jokes that for about half his career he's been saying "just one more year" but, due to turn 42 in August and having already started to firm up post-playing plans, after the player-coach role he assumed last year was made official in another season-long deal for 2023, he gives arguably his strongest hint yet that this could be it.
"Probably yes," Murtagh tells ESPNcricinfo. "I'm in a bit of a different role this year with taking on the coaching as well… so I'll say, as I have said for the last 10 years, 'one more year', but we'll play it by ear. I'm not sure the body can keep going for too much longer. I still want to play as much as I can this year and be available as much as the coach and captain want me to play. We'll see what happens.
"I really enjoyed last season and it was great to help bring the boys up into Division One. Hopefully I can add a bit of experience having played in this division before - some of our guys won't have done. I know there's not much time left but I'm going to enjoy every game that I am playing."
That's not to say that it's all about the fun. Murtagh's skill, nagging accuracy and all that experience made him the second-highest wicket-taker of Middlesex's promotion campaign in 2022, which sees them return to the top flight after a five-year absence. His 30 wickets from 10 matches was behind only Toby Roland-Jones for the club, the latter topping Division Two overall with 67 from 13 games.
And there are still boxes to be ticked. Murtagh needs 15 more wickets to reach 1000 across all formats for Middlesex while 30 more would allow him to overtake Phil Tufnell on the list of first-class wickets for the club. But it's also the work to be done with the younger players in the squad that is helping to motivate Murtagh now.
"Professional sport can be so serious sometimes, it can be so intense," he said. "I've almost treated it like a game and that's maybe easy for me to say, someone who's had a long career and not worried about contracts every year. I've seen guys really suffer physically and mentally and it can weigh you down. If you don't take yourself too seriously and always look for the positives and always look to compete and enjoy the game then I think you'll have more good days than bad days."
That said, he knows being back in Division One won't be easy.
"I'm expecting it to be a challenge because we haven't played in this division for a long time," Murtagh added. "The consistency of the Division One teams is of a lot higher standard than in Division Two, but I think I said at the start of last season this didn't feel to me like a Division Two squad. I felt like there's enough quality within our four walls to be in the first division and to be really competitive.
"I'm not going to suddenly say we're going to walk into Division One and win it this year. That would be great, and it has happened before and I'd love that if it did happen but we just want to be as competitive as possible and we know it's going be tough, but I think we're ready."
Middlesex's marquee overseas signing, South Africa spinner Keshav Maharaj, had to pull out of his planned stint with the club after rupturing his Achilles tendon celebrating a dismissal during the second Test against West Indies in Johannesburg in early March. He had been due to play eight Championship matches from April and the Vitality Blast.
A replacement is yet to be announced but otherwise, the only addition to their squad has been Ryan Higgins, who returns from Gloucestershire having initially played for Middlesex from 2014-17 and come through their academy system. They have also retained another overseas player, Pieter Malan, who joined last June as a replacement after Peter Handscomb left mid-season.
It was Handscomb's departure that allowed Murtagh to take on a greater leadership role. He assumed the captaincy as well as an informal coaching role for the Royal London Cup. Roland-Jones will skipper the Championship side for 2023 while Stephen Eskinazi will captain both white-ball sides, with Murtagh joining first team coach Richard Johnson, club coach Rory Coutts and director of cricket Alan Coleman alongside consultants Ian Salisbury and Mark Ramprakash in the coaching department.
"It's sort of natural," Murtagh said of the move. "Being captain last year, I had a bit more responsibility, you could think about other people apart from yourself, which is great, and I just see it as a bit of an extension of me being a senior bowler for the last few years, trying to help some of these guys and guide them.
"I've said to them, I'm not going to be the most technically knowledgeable coach to start with but in terms of real time, day-to-day bowling, I've been through it all in the last 20-odd years. So I'm there for whenever they need me. It's a bit of a trial-and-error year, see if I enjoy it, if I'm any good at it, and then we'll see what happens from next season onwards."
The club has something to work with too. Tom Helm brings height and pace to their attack and enjoyed a breakthrough season in 2022 with 29 Championship wickets at 21.96 plus an impressive Hundred campaign with Birmingham Phoenix. Luke Hollman is emerging as an influential legspinning allrounder and Blake Cullen, a tall seamer who can swing the ball both ways, is hopeful of reprising an impressive 2021 after returning from a back injury which severely curtailed his involvement last year.
With the bat, it will likely fall to the older, more experienced hands like Sam Robson, Mark Stoneman, John Simpson and Malan to lead the way along with Max Holden and Robbie White.
Coleman said he had "no expectations as such" with the club seeking just its third trophy in 30 years, having won the Championship in 2016 and the T20 Cup in 2008.
"We want to compete, we want to go out there, show what we can do, show the talent we have in our squad, be as consistent as we possibly can and you never know where you're going to end up," Coleman said. "We've got a really talented group of players here, many deserving of that opportunity to step up into Division One, and anything is possible."
Just ask Murtagh, who was part of both those title triumphs after joining from Surrey for 2007, and will have special reason to reminisce when Ireland play England in a one-off Test at Lord's at the start of June. Playing the last of his three Tests for Ireland - and the only one at Lord's - in the corresponding fixture in 2019, Murtagh earned a place on the honours board at his home ground with his 5 for 13 in the first innings. He retired from international cricket that year with 58 ODIs and 14 T20Is also to his name.
Reflecting not just on the longevity of his career but on his lasting enjoyment of the game, Murtagh's view is simple: "Passion. Whether it's sport, business, whatever it is, passion is such an important thing and I've always had that. I've always seen it as more of a game than a job, not putting too much pressure on myself, and just try to enjoy it while it lasts because sports players don't tend to last for that long."
After 23 years, it's all relative.

Valkerie Baynes is a general editor, women's cricket, at ESPNcricinfo