Edward Liddle profiles Tim Murtagh
Tim Murtagh, one of the leading opening bowlers in the County Championship, swings the ball disconcertingly at a fast medium pace. Deservedly profiled by the magazine All Out Cricket (AOC) in 2014 as one of the five "Titans of County Cricket", a quintet which also featured Ed Joyce, he has taken - at the time of writing - 548 wickets in first class cricket at 27.09 with 468 of those having fallen to him since his move to Middlesex in 2007 which he celebrated by sharing the county's Player of the Year award with overseas star Murali Kartik and, according to Wisden showing that "his worth was incalculable."
Many have questioned why his consistency, which has regularly taken him past the 50 wicket mark in every subsequent season bar 2010, did not gain him international recognition for the land of his birth rather than causing him to seek it for the land of his ancestors. He told AOC that he had no feelings of bitterness about his non-selection for England and agreed that it might have been because of his lack of genuine pace. Be that as it may, Middlesex as their Director of Cricket Angus Fraser, who knows more than most about pace bowling, freely admits, are more than glad to have him, as they have shown by the award of a benefit for the coming (2015) season. Tim's batting, which once caused him to be thought of as an all rounder is less highly rated now but he has 10 first class 50s to his credit, having twice reached his top score of 74, both for Surrey, one against Middlesex.
Cricket runs strongly in the Murtagh family, Tim's brother Chris, an elegant upper order right hander, made a handful of appearances for Surrey, reaching three figures once, before playing with success for Shropshire, a beautifully struck half century against Staffordshire in 2011, entrancing this writer on a balmy spring day at Oswestry. The brothers played for John Fisher School in Purley but rugby was certainly the main game there, Tim captaining the 2nd XV. Their uncle Dublin born Andy, a middle order batsman, played for Hampshire and Eastern Province before teaching for 20 years at Malvern College where he ran the cricket. In retirement he has written biographies of George Chesterton, Tom Graveney and - shortly to be published - Barry Richards.
Tim was a member of the England U19 side in the 1999-2000 World Cup in Sri Lanka. The side's overall performance was disappointing, failing to qualify for the knock out stages but with figures of 4-32 against the Americas and, perhaps more importantly 4-26 against West Indies, Tim was certainly one of the successes in a side which also included Mark Wallace, now captain of Glamorgan, Ian Bell, Michael Carberry and Ricky Ponting's favourite cricketer Gary Pratt. All of them, including Tim. were part of the U19 side which played three Tests against Sri Lanka the following summer, England won the first by an innings but he tourists were victorious in the other two . Tim was again one of the successes taking 16 wickets at 16.31 including 4-29 in the First Test at Trent Bridge.
Between 2000 and 2003 he made several appearances for the British Universities, showing to very good effect against the Pakistanis in 2001. The tourists had little difficulty in winning by an innings bowling their hosts out for 74 and 155, Tim making an undefeated 22 in the second innings despite the hostility of Wasim Akram and Younis Ahmed. Pakistan totalled 316 between these meagre efforts with Tim the only bowler to trouble them. Dismissing Saeed Anwar, Inzaman-ul- Haq and Mohammed Younis ( then known as Younis Yohanna ) he returned the excellent figures of 22.5-3-86-6.
He made his debut for Surrey in 2001, during a successful season with the Second XI, and remained with the county until 2006. He tended to be seen as more of a limited overs bowler, and achieved his career best (to date January 2015) figures in both List A and T 20 during this period. In a List A game with Derbyshire at Derby he took 4-14 as the hosts were dismissed for 88 while against Middlesex, in front of a packed house for a Lord's T20, he took 6-24 from his 4 overs, the 4th best UK. figures in this form of cricket. His wickets included the key one of Owais Shah, very much on song, as Middlesex chased a Surrey score of 200, but lost by 23 runs.
In 2007, however he joined Middlesex and at once became an essential member of the side. He has said that it was the move as much as anything else that transformed his effectiveness. He has taken ten wickets in a match on four occasions. His best bowling figures of 7-82 came in a drawn match with Derbyshire at Derby in 2009, while his season's best return came in 2011 when he took 85 wickets at 20.87, the latter achievement again bringing him a shared Player of the Year award, this time with the prolific Australian opening bat Chris Rogers. Both had played key roles in gaining Middlesex a return to First Division cricket.
A conversation with his friend Ed Joyce persuaded Tim to qualify for Ireland. Coach Phil Simmons, though explaining that he would not necessarily be an automatic selection was only too glad to have him, with Trent Johnston on the verge of retirement and Boyd Rankin's call up for England becoming a distinct possibility. Tim has, as this is being written, played 30 matches for Ireland and taken 29 wickets, in all matches, at 28.48. His best bowling figures of 4-24 were achieved against the UAE in the 2013 T20 World Cup Qualifier Semi Final. Ireland had managed only 147 from their allocated overs but Max Sorensen chopped down the early batting in the UAE reply, Tim then, in the words of Ian Callender "claimed four of the last five to complete another highly impressive Irish performance." However an equally impressive performance had come a few months previously in the ODI against England on that gloriously sunny September day at Malahide. Following a fine hundred from William Porterfield, England had needed 270 to win but were rocked back by a fine opening spell from Tim who took 3-33 from his 10 overs, his haul a notable one consisting of all rounder Luke Wright, James Taylor, a diminutive but excellent bat and Zimbabwean Yorkshireman Gary Ballance. Unfortunately Tim could not bowl all day as his Middlesex colleague Eoin Morgan and Essex man Ravi Bopara starred in an ODI 5th wicket record. Ireland had reason to feel disappointed but no blame could be laid at Tim's door.
Tim was left out of Ireland's squad of what became the "tour from hell" at the end of 2014, both his country and his county being keen for him to rest after an arduous season in which he had done much to ensure that Middlesex remained in the top flight of the Championship. However he was in the party for the Triangular series with Scotland and Afghanistan and was thus also in the World Cup side. Unfortunately before the first competition got underway he suffered a broken bone in his foot and his participation in the Cup must be in some doubt. It is very much to be hoped that such fears will prove groundless.
However whether he plays or not Timothy James Murtagh has already shown his value to Irish cricket and will also, when he finally hangs up his boots, be long remembered at Lord's for his deeds in a Middlesex shirt. All Irish cricket followers will surely wish him a speedy recovery and a highly successful benefit in the coming season.
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