Middlesex's Finals Day hopes lie with heavy international presence

T20 BLAST PREVIEW: AB de Villiers and Eoin Morgan are just two of the household names that will contribute to Dawid Malan's side

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Coach: Stuart Law

Captain: Dawid Malan

Overseas: AB de Villiers (South Africa), Mujeeb Ur Rahman (Afghanistan)

Last season: 9th in South Division

How did they do last year? 

Not very well at all if we are being honest. They recorded the worst record of any county in the competition by losing 12 of their 14 group games, which included a defeat, thanks to an Aaron Finch masterclass, to Surrey after putting 221 runs on the board. Middlesex will therefore be able to feed off little from their previous campaign.

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AB de Villiers brings a world-class pedigree with him

Who are their key players?

The name that stands out from the rest is former South Africa international AB de Villiers, who will no doubt reignite the buzz around Lord's, and with an average of 44.20 in this year's IPL, you can understand why. However, despite those figures caution should be thrown into the wind given that de Villiers hasn't quite lit up India's T20 franchise competition in the way he would have hoped, finishing 11th in the top-scoring charts, and how rusty he may be with international cricket no longer on his agenda remains to be seen.

Such a pretext cannot be made for Eoin Morgan who is in throes of trying to captain England to a first World Cup win, and Middlesex will look to him, alongside de Villiers, to provide the ingenuity in the middle overs and play a leading role in posting big scores.

Nathan Sowter may not be able to boast the international status of his aforementioned colleagues but his white-ball cricket form this term has already been magnificent, with only Saqib Mahmood managing more than his 25 wickets in this year's Royal London One-Day Cup. If he can form a partnership with newcomer Mujeeb, they could apply pressure which could be too much for most sides.

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What are their biggest strengths? 

Top-order batting. Any lineup that can boast the likes of de Villiers, Morgan, England international Dawid Malan, an explosive Paul Stirling and a bright, emerging Max Holden has its strengths.

With former batsman Stuart Law at the helm, expect there to be a few fireworks at Lord’s this season given the formidable nature on paper of their side. Spin is also another strength, with Sowter having already proved his worth in limited-overs cricket so far this season and Mujeeb looking like he had adapted well to English conditions at the World Cup with Afghanistan.

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Paul Stirling was Middlesex's top runscorer in the Blast in 2018

Where might they have a weakness?

Pace attack. Despite 19 wickets in the One-Day Cup, Tom Helm managed an average of just over one wicket per game in last year's T20 competition, while Steve Finn's white-ball form is not nearly as prolific as his four-day performances, and that was proved by just seven T20 Blast wickets in 2018 and two matches in this year's One-Day Cup.

If they leak runs without taking any scalps in the powerplay, it may even be out of the power of Sowter and Mujeeb to rein the score back in. That pressure could also throw Tom Barber, who is still relatively new to the game, off his game.

Chances of reaching Finals Day?

If they take after their One-Day Cup form, Finals Day is a realistic possibility. But should there be little improvement from last year, getting out of the group would be some achievement.

Strongest XI (with T20 Player Index ratings): Paul Stirling (45), Max Holden (653), Dawid Malan(157), AB de Villiers (28), Eoin Morgan (148), John Simpson (357), Mujeeb Ur Rahman (97), Steve Finn (407), Tom Helm (465), Nathan Sowter (559), Tom Barber (853)

Fixtures: Jul 18 - Essex (h), July 23 - Surrey (a), Jul 25 - Gloucestershire (a), Jul 26 - Glamorgan (a), Aug 1 - Kent (h), Aug 4 - Somerset (h), Aug 8 - Surrey (h), Aug 9 - Sussex (a), Aug 11 - Gloucestershire (h), Aug 14 - Essex (a), Aug 22 - Hampshire (h), Aug 24 - Sussex (h), Aug 29 - Hampshire (a), Aug 30 - Somerset (a)

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