Dutch aim to extend their winning streak
Middlesex visit the Netherlands on Monday for the third time in as many seasons, looking to maintain their unbeaten run against the Orange Lions.
But the Dutch will be on a high after their victories over Gloucestershire and Worcestershire last weekend, while Middlesex surprisingly lost to the Gladiators at Lord’s on Monday, the day after the latter had been beaten by the Netherlands in a thrilling last-ball finish.
And Middlesex will not have forgotten that their own home match against the Orange Lions last season also went right down to the wire, with the county side barely managing to defend a total of 286, thanks to a superb unbeaten century by Tom Cooper and a spirited knock from Mudassar Bukhari.
It was, admittedly, a very different story in Deventer a couple of weeks later, when Corey Collymore and Steven Finn combined to shoot the Dutch out for 104 and Middlesex romped to a seven-wicket victory.
Collymore will be back this time but Finn, along with his England colleagues Andrew Strauss and Eoin Morgan – the latter currently playing in the IPL – will be absent from the Middlesex squad, which nevertheless has a pretty solid look.
The home side will be well aware of the danger represented by Ireland’s Paul Stirling, who hammered a 72-ball 101 against them at Kolkata in last year’s World Cup and who more recently hit a powerful 33 in Dubai during the World Twenty20 qualifier.
Then there’s the Australian Chris Rogers, who made 72 and 56 in Derbyshire’s two matches against the Dutch in 2010, and who chipped in with 32 for Middlesex in Deventer last season. And South African-born Dawid Malan, whose 90 at Lord’s last year was the foundation of that Middlesex total of 286 for five.
Malan’s opening partner this time is likely to be Joe Denly, who has played nine ODIs and five T20 internationals for England, while the middle order includes skipper Neil Dexter, the South African-born Italian international Gareth Berg, and wicketkeeper John Simpson.
Collymore will presumably share the new ball with Ireland-qualified Tim Murtagh, backed up by the medium pace of Berg, Dexter, and possibly Steven Crook. Off-spinners Ollie Rayner and Stirling bowled against Gloucestershire, but Middlesex have kept their options open by including leg-spinner Sam Robson and slow left-armer Tom Smith in their 13-man party.
The Dutch, unsurprisingly, have retained the same squad as travelled to England last weekend, and it seems likely that the same eleven will take the field, meaning that Eric Szwarczynski and Sebastiaan Braat – the latter called up at the last minute when Ahsan Malik Jamil was forced to withdraw for family reasons – might again miss out.
There might, on the other hand, be a case for reinforcing the middle order by bringing Szwarczynski back into the side, in which case it could be Tim Gruijters, whose off-spin was not called on in either game last week, who becomes twelfth man.
That is not to say that the batting against Gloucestershire and Worcestershire was anything less than impressive: all the top seven got a start in Bristol, with Stephan Myburgh’s 77 the undoubted highlight, while Myburgh and Cameron Borgas’ record-breaking partnership in Kidderminster was a magnificent effort in difficult conditions.
Mudassar Bukhari, too, played one of those closing-stages cameos with which he has tormented a series of county attacks, and with Michael Swart an ideal foil for Myburgh, and Cooper, Peter Borren and Wesley Barresi all capable of contributing quick runs the batting is arguably stronger than it has ever been.
The bowlers, too, did well last week, holding their nerve against Gloucestershire when Benny Howell threatened to hit the home side back into the game and restricting a curiously tentative Worcestershire side to a relatively modest 172 off 27 overs on a very small ground.
Pieter Seelaar’s four wickets in the first match and Bukhari’s three in the second were a just reward for some consistent bowling, while Timm van der Gugten, though wicketless, contributed useful opening spells in both games, and Tom Heggelman’s five-over spell against Worcestershire was his best effort since the tied match against Derbyshire last season.
This match should, then, be a great contest, and with the weather prospects reasonably settled it must be hoped that a good crowd will turn up to see it.