KEEPING LORD'S WORLD CLASS
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Middlesex start their season at Trent Bridge on Wednesday as many people's outside tip for the LV= County Championship title. Lords.org looks at five things which could make or shape the Panthers' season.
1. James Harris
For the first time in a few years, Steven Finn was usurped as the star attraction at the pre-season press day.
Welshman James Harris was by far the biggest domestic transfer of the winter and Angus Fraser has pulled off a coup in beating a number of high-profile suitors to his signature.
Harris is an England Lion and spent the winter on-the-cusp of breaking into the full international set-up, and should be available for the majority of the summer. At 22 he has the virtue of being both young and experienced, having led the Glamorgan attack for several years.
Fraser has become an expert at rotating a strong seam attack over the past two seasons, and with Harris added to an attack already containing Finn, Tim Murtagh, Toby Roland-Jones and Corey Collymore, he has a wealth of talent at his disposal.
2. The middle order
While the quick-bowling department is the envy of the league, doubts remain over the middle order. Dawid Malan is immensely talented but has so far failed to take his game to the next level, while Neil Dexter had an up-and-down 2012 - affected by events off the field - and leads the team.
With Fraser likely to want to play four seamers on occasion, there is also increased pressure on wicket-keeper John Simpson, who struggled with the bat last summer, and spinning all-rounder Ollie Rayner to score consistently.
3. Australia's Ashes campaign
There are less concerns about Middlesex's top three though, thanks largely to the evergreen Australian opener Chris Rogers.
Fresh from another prolific Sheffield Shield campaign with Victoria, the 35-year-old was second only to Nick Compton in the division run charts last summer and has been among the best performing cricketers in the championship for years.
So consistent, that there remains an outside shot that the one-Test-wonder may be pressed into service for the Ashes series as Australia search for a top-six worthy of regaining the urn. He would leave a gaping hole at the top of the Middlesex order.
Since beating Kent to win the Twenty20 cup in 2008, Middlesex have rather fallen out of love with the shortest format of the game.
Angus Fraser has targeted the county championship over the one-day tournaments, but with another experienced Australian, Adam Voges, signed up for this year's competition, a chance that Eoin Morgan will be around for at least some of the fixtures and Ireland hitter Paul Stirling at the top of the order the Panthers will be hoping on an improvement than the group stage exits and convincing defeats of recent years.
However, disappointing Friends Life t20 campaigns in the middle of the summer have not stalled their form in the longer format in the past two years, and there's always the prospect of a showpiece final causing a distraction in the squad should they have the championship stil to play for in August.
5. The weather
It may be a coincidence that winning the county championship second division and finishing third on their return to the top flight in successive summers has coincided with two of the more miserable British summers in recent memory.
But for a side built on the performances of a strong seam attack, ashen skies have been kind to Middlesex. With so much championship cricket before June there's always a good chance of history repeating itself, but the absence of a match-winning spin option could count against them on sun-baked pitches.
Middlesex may be the only team in the top flight hoping that the current weather continues. Or maybe not...