Hayes & Harlington Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - By JON BATHAM tms-sport@trin­i­tymir­ @el­lis_red

OL­LIE RAYNER de­clined this week to place him­self in the Ian Botham class of slip catch­ers – but ad­mits it’s an art which has some­times saved his place in the Mid­dle­sex team.

The off-spin­ner fur­ther en­hanced his rep­u­ta­tion as one of the county game’s best close to the wicket field­ers with four in the first in­nings of last week’s draw with Surrey.

Both his phys­i­cal stature and un­ortho­dox po­si­tion­ing at sec­ond slip - well in ad­vance of first - are rem­i­nis­cent of Eng­land’s great­est all-rounder, who ex­celled in Eng­land’s close catch­ing cor­don of the 1970s and 80s. Rayner is re­luc­tant to draw com­par­isons but knows how cru­cial his abil­ity to throw him­self around and get hands on those out­side edges has be­come.

“I don’t know about com­par­isons with Botham,” he said.

“Slip-catch­ing is just one of those in­stinc­tive things. I’m pretty un­ortho­dox in the way I set up and it has put peo­ple off in the past as I look the wrong way.

“It’s prob­a­bly not a tech­nique which you would coach young kids but it is all about be­ing in the best po­si­tion you can be in to catch the ball.

“I know at times through­out my ca­reer my slip catch­ing has got me in the team and that is half the bat­tle. You have got to get in be­fore you can prove what you can do.

“So, I’ve al­ways done a lot of work on my catch­ing be­cause it is an­other string to my bow.

“Some days the bowl­ing might not quite go to plan but you still have an im­por­tant role to play in the slips, be­cause it’s bet­ter to only have to take 10 wick­ets than drop­ping a few and hav­ing to take 12 or 13.”

Strangely for a man so adept at the art, the 31-year-old re­vealed it was a role he dis­cov­ered by ac­ci­dent, hav­ing been a bound­ary boards pa­troller early in his ca­reer.

“I was ini­tially just graz­ing down at third man when I was younger and they couldn’t be both­ered to change ev­ery­one around ev­ery time for a left-hand, right-hand com­bi­na­tion, so I came into gul­ley, took a catch and never looked back from there,” he added.“I had to make my way from gully to third slip and then to sec­ond and that is where I’ve stayed.”

Rayner’s next op­por­tu­nity to show­case his catch­ing prow­ess will come in the Spec­savers County Cham­pi­onship Di­vi­sion One clash against last year’s runners-up Som­er­set in a game which starts this Friday.

Mid­dle­sex will be with­out both Dawid Malan and Steven Finn for the match as they are away rep­re­sent­ing Eng­land Lions.

On the plus side though, Tim Murtagh and Paul Stir­ling be­come avail­able af­ter com­plet­ing their in­ter­na­tional du­ties with Ire­land while opener Sam Rob­son could re­turn fol­low­ing his re­cent ham­string in­jury.

Philip Brown/Getty Images

Hands like buck­ets: Ol­lie Rayner fields off his own bowl­ing this time in Mid­dle­sex’s County Cham­pi­onship clash with Surrey

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