Richard Johnson made his name as a cricketer as a Middlesex fast bowler and now, as the county’s bowling coach, he is ideally placed to assess the growing confidence at Lord’s that – at last – one of England’s most famous clubs can again sit at the top table of the domestic game.
The news that Jamie Dalrymple, their former off-spinning all-rounder, is to rejoin Middlesex from early June, after three seasons at Glamorgan where he captained the club in 2009 and 2010, is a further boost to morale.
But Johnson, the former England paceman, looks especially at the squad of quicker bowlers that has been assembled by Middlesex for the 2011 campaign, and sees a depth in quality that has not always been apparent in recent years.
“Obviously, to have Steven Finn around for the first six weeks or so of the season is a big bonus for us,” said Johnson. “But even if Finny was not around I think we have got a fast bowling group which is good enough to help the club to be successful this year.
“Anthony Ireland, who we have signed from Gloucestershire, is a very good bowler and has had international experience with Zimbabwe, while Corey Collymore – who has joined us from Sussex – is a high quality and proven performer.
“Then there is Tim Murtagh, who is one of the most experienced county bowlers on the circuit, and two outstanding young talents in Toby Roland-Jones and Dan Evans. And don’t forget Gareth Berg’s fast-medium pace to back all that up.”
What Middlesex, who start their County Championship second division programme at home to Essex at Lord’s on April 14, clearly lack is an established front-line spinner following Shaun Udal’s retirement, although Ollie Rayner has arrived on loan from Sussex to provide early-season slow bowling support for his former county colleague Tom Smith, the 23-year-old slow left-armer. Dalrymple’s return to Lord’s will also help, of course.
Chris Rogers, meanwhile, signed from Derbyshire as overseas player, will score heavy runs at the top of a batting order which will also – at least for a number of games – have Andrew Strauss and Eoin Morgan available.
Strauss will play a couple of matches as preparation for England’s Test series against Sri Lanka, which starts on May 26, while Morgan returns in mid-May from the IPL.
Neil Dexter, the captain, picks out his former county Kent as being a leading contender for promotion into Division One, but adds that Middlesex – fitter as a squad after in effect starting their pre-season last November with a dedicated fitness programme – will not be worrying about anyone else in the second tier despite finishing second from bottom of Division Two in 2010.
Johnson, a player when Middlesex last won the Championship in 1993, added: “We’re not getting carried away but we feel we can begin to make real improvements as a group and the aim is to keep that progression going throughout the season.
“There has been a bit of a change-around in personnel since last year and there is a lot of young talent here, but no one has a right to win things and this club has only won one trophy – the Twenty20 Cup in 2008 – in almost 20 years.”