KEEPING LORD'S WORLD CLASS
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Middlesex and Ireland bowler Tim Murtagh is targetting team and individual success as Middlesex embark on their 2014 campaign in the Club's 150th year.
Murtagh, who has returned to the Lord’s county after Ireland’s participation in the ICC World T20 in Bangladesh, has spoken about his eagerness to get back into Middlesex colours when the county season begins on Sunday 6 April.
"I’ve spent most of the winter away with Ireland, which has been great," said Murtagh, speaking at Middlesex's pre-season press day.
"But it’s always great to come back to Lord’s and turn our thoughts to the start of the domestic season. We’re really excited to get going."
Middlesex kick off their season at Hove in an LV= County Championship game against Sussex, before their first game at Lord’s the following week against Nottinghamshire - beginning Sunday 13 April - and Murtagh is hoping for big things for the county in four-day cricket.
"We need to target the top three this year, we came third in 2012 and slipped away a little last year coming in fifth, which was bitterly disappointing.
"It’s such an open division. In 2012 Durham almost went down before going on to win it last year so it’s very difficult to predict.
"We’re just looking to build on what we’ve started here and finish in those top three spots again - first will be ideal, especially in our 150th year, but finishing up near the top will be our first goal."
Murtagh: "Top three is the target"
This year sees a change of leadership at Middlesex, with England’s Eoin Morgan replacing Neil Dexter as limited overs captain, and Murtagh is looking forward to playing under his new skipper.
He said: "You could tell he was captaincy material for the last few years, he’s had his ideas both in the field and off it as well, so I’m sure he’s looking forward to doing it and gaining a bit more experience of captaincy, having done it a few times for England this winter.
"It’s always great when we have him around because he’s a world class player, and to have his additional leadership skills will be a massive boost."
Fifty over return
It’s always great to come back to Lord’s
Morgan will lead the Panthers in the revamped Royal London One-Day Cup competition, which reverts to a fifty-over tournament, and 32 year-old Murtagh is hoping that the new format - which will mirror ODI cricket - will favour the bowlers.
"Having two new white balls might be a revert back to old school one day cricket in a way," he added.
"It might be difficult to attack the bowling at the start of an innings - you see in ODI cricket generally teams start a little bit more circumspect and save wickets in hand for those powerplay overs, and for the last ten overs which have tended to be where you plunder a lot of runs.
"It will be a slightly different mindset but it’s one we need to embrace quickly.
"I’ve not played a lot of white ball cricket personally for Middlesex for a variety of reasons over the past couple of years, and it’s not always possible to play with workloads but given the opportunity I’m really looking forward to the competition."
Murtagh has spent the winter away with Ireland, and has acknowledged the experience that playing internationally has given him, despite Ireland’s ICC World T20 campaign ending in disappointment.
"To go away with Ireland has been a great chance to work on those white ball skills that have perhaps been neglected over the past three or four years.
"This winter we’ve been to various countries - Trinidad, Jamaica, Dubai and Bangladesh, which has been great.
"We played a lot of good cricket all winter - we beat the West Indies once and should have beaten them again in the two match T20 series, and to beat another full member in Zimbabwe was great.
"It was disappointing not to finish that group on a high and get through, but full credit to the Netherlands, they played some really good cricket and have done ever since."
T20 Blasts off
Middlesex will kick of this season’s NatWest T20 Blast with a ground-breaking double-header against Essex and Sussex on Saturday 17 May, and Murtagh is looking forward to the occasion.
"It’s new and innovative and hopefully we’ll have a great day and pack the ground out for two games, it will be very exciting.
"Hopefully we can come out with two wins on the day, and it’s definitely something we’re looking forward to.
"We’ve been close to qualifying from the T20 group, as well as the forty over groups over the past couple of years, so hopefully we can go a step further in one of those two competitions and get into the knockout stage.
"A big club like this deserves to be playing in the late stages of these competitions and hopefully we’ll be able to put it all together this year."
Murtagh finished 2013 as the fourth highest wicket taker in Division One with 60 wickets from 13 games, and wants to keep improving year after year.
"I don’t set myself set targets for the year, I just try to improve on what I did last year.
"My basic goal at the start of every season is to take more wickets than the year before - sometimes it doesn’t work out, but I just want to improve.
"If I’m doing that and am going in the right direction, we’ll see what happens."