RAYNER’S RELAXED ABOUT DRAW
MIDDLESEX have to enjoy the pressure of being County champions, says Ollie Rayner.
The tenants of Lord’s made an inauspicious start to the defence of their crown against Hampshire at The Ageas Bowl this week with the off-spinner having to bat for almost two hours on the final afternoon to help secure a draw in their opening Specsavers County Championship clash.
All that after Middlesex had been in a position of strength on the first day, at 220-2 against a team reprieved from relegation by Durham’s financial problems last season and who were deprived of strike bowler Fidel Edwards because of injury for all but five overs.
Such a struggle came as no surprise to 31-year-old Rayner who, before the trip south, predicted rivals would be gunning for them.
Nevertheless Rayner believes Middlesex are lucky to play a game they love and must relish every second of it, pressure or no.
“I’m expecting a tough year but you have got to enjoy it,” he said. “You only get one crack at this life in cricket and having some good times with your mates, so play hard on the pitch, enjoy yourself off it and we’ll see where we are at come the end of the year.
“People will have plans for us so it is not going to be a walk in the park at all.
“But we are well prepared, people are that much more experienced and we have kind of been there and done it in terms of the nerves and things like that.”
Attention switches to Lord’s this week where Rayner and company entertain Essex, who will have former England captain Alistair Cook in their ranks.
As tenants of the MCC, Middlesex don’t have the luxury of preparing pitches to suit either Rayner or their fast bowling battery.
However last year’s rule change to make the toss of the coin optional gave former Sussex man Rayner more opportunities than previously, leading to 51 firstclass wickets in the championship-winning side – his best return yet.
“It was a nice change from my point of view,” he added. “Come on! It is always the batters and seamers who get everything, so I’m not going to complain when I’ve finally got a bit of a break. I’m going to have to back it up now though, having had things to say for years about the pitches.
“They weren’t necessarily spinning a lot more but they were of a nature where we were fielding for a lot longer, so the spinner had to bowl a lot more overs to give the big dogs more time off their feet. Obviously, in doing that I picked up some useful wickets as well.”
Ollie Rayner, left, and Tim Murtagh celebrate Middlesex’s County Championship triumph at Lord’s in September Dan Mullan/Getty Images