After their win against MCC at Lord’s last week, Middlesex will go into the opening rounds of the Women’s County Championship next weekend with some confidence, hoping to avoid a repeat of last season where they lost their first two matches to Lancashire and Yorkshire.
“We didn’t start as well as we wanted to!” admits co-captain Natasha Miles.
Victory by the narrowest of margins against Berkshire was followed by two more defeats, to Nottinghamshire and Warwickshire, leaving them with 1 win from 5 by the end of May. Mired in the relegation zone, it didn’t look good for Middlesex going into the T20 season.
“It was a difficult time for us,” acknowledges coach Sanjay Patel. “We were up against it – availability wasn’t great; the England girls weren’t around; and we had some freak injuries – it was all doom and gloom!”
But the T20 season offered an opportunity for a fresh start, and Middlesex grabbed it – winning 5 of their 8 matches, finishing with big wins against Warwickshire and Kent in the final round to lift them to a second-placed finish in the table.
“The T20 came at a really good time,” says Patel. “We played some fantastic cricket and the belief that I keep telling the girls that I have in them came through in the T20 and it freed them up a bit.”
When the County Championship resumed, however, staying up still looked like a tough ask for Middlesex, with back-to-back fixtures against Sussex and Kent – traditionally two of the strongest sides in the competition.
“We were under massive pressure – I didn’t sleep for days!” recalls Patel.
Middlesex pulled off the win against Kent, but other results meant that the match against Sussex had become a relegation “final”.
Players on both sides rose to the occasion: “It was one of the best games of cricket I’ve ever seen – proper cricket – the challenges were there, mentally and physically,” says Patel.
But thanks to a fantastic performance from all-rounder Sophia Dunkley – top-scoring with 63 and taking 3 wickets – it was Middlesex who came out on top.
“We learned so much from those two days,” says Miles. “Everything we put into those two games we took into our winter training and now we’re bringing it to the season coming.”
A few new faces will join the ranks this season, alongside established stars like co-captain Naomi Dattani and former England veteran Beth Morgan. Patel takes us through the roll-call:
“There’s Emma Albery, who is at university in York – a young exciting middle-order batsman who bowls a little bit of spin; and Rebecca Tyson, who is the youngest – a left-arm seamer; while Iqraa Hussain will keep wicket in the 50-over. Iqraa and Emma have come through our junior program, while Rebecca came through our regional trialling program from Hertfordshire.”
“Katie Woolfe is also like a new player – she was injured for most of last year with terrible shin-splints and pretty much missed the whole season – but she is a really exciting young opening bowler, who is in the England Academy program.”
Miles is also excited about their new “overseas”, Hayleigh Brennan – a British passport-holder from Australia, who played against England in the Governor General’s XI match during the recent Women’s Ashes tour, and made one appearance for the Melbourne Stars in WBBL03.
“We only just met Hayleigh this weekend – she is going to offer a lot of experience opening the bowling alongside the younger girls that are coming through,” says Miles.
So… the big question: will this be Middlesex’s year?
“We are optimistic,” says Miles; and Patel agrees:
“I’m not a big one for making predictions,” he says. “But I say to the girls: if we play to our potential, we will beat anyone!”