Uxbridge Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - JON BATHAM by tms-sport@trin­i­tymir­ror.com Twit­ter: @el­lis_red

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

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