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Middlesex batsman confident that centuries will come in County Championship

Paul Stirling of Middlesex. Pic: Matt Bright Paul Stirling of Middlesex. Pic: Matt Bright

Ben Kosky
Friday, July 18, 2014
7:31 AM

Paul Stirling hopes a maiden four-day hundred is not too far away after marking his run in the Middlesex side with a glut of half-centuries.

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Stirling has passed 50 four times in his last five innings in the County Championship, including two half-centuries during Middlesex’s drawn match against Somerset at Uxbridge last week.

So far, the Irishman’s highest four-day score is an unbeaten 66 in last month’s defeat by Nottinghamshire, but he is less concerned about reaching three figures than continuing his transition from limited-overs specialist to all-round county cricketer.

And Stirling, who opens the batting for the Panthers’ one-day side, feels he has particularly benefited from going in much further down the order in the County Championship.

“It’s nice to get the opportunity to go out there and play,” said Stirling. “As a professional, you’ve got to be flexible and go wherever the skipper and coach tell you to go.

“I’ve been coming in at no 7 and by then we’ve usually laid a pretty good platform, so it’s been nice to come in and play with a bit of freedom and score as many runs as possible.

“At that position you get to do different roles in the team – you could be coming in trying to set up a declaration or, if the side’s struggling, you might need to battle hard.

“So it’s been great in that sense. I’m happy to score some runs for the team and hopefully I’m starting to develop into a better red-ball player.

“If I get the chance and stay in form, hopefully I can push on and score tons in the future. I’ve scored a couple of first-class tons for Ireland, but it’d be a dream come true if that happened at Lord’s.”

The 23-year-old Ireland international has been a mainstay of Middlesex’s limited-overs side for the last three years, but has recently featured more frequently in County Championship cricket.

And, although Stirling has yet to taste victory in the four-day format, he believes Middlesex can yet force their way into the title race by beating Yorkshire in their next game.

The Lord’s side are currently 20 points behind their third-placed opponents, but can close that gap significantly by pulling off a victory at Scarborough in the match that gets under way on Saturday.

“Yorkshire are a very strong side – they perform well every year and they’ve still produced match-winning displays even without a couple of their best players, who have been on England duty,” added Stirling.

“We’ve been in great positions in the last three games we’ve played, but we just haven’t quite got across the line. Hopefully we can continue that pattern up in Scarborough and this time get a win.

“If we get a couple of wins in a row we’ll be right up there – and at the same time you have to know that if it doesn’t go your way you could go down a couple of places and be in trouble.

“So it’s a really interesting time and I think it can make captaincy a bit more difficult, knowing when to declare and when not to, especially if the pitches are playing as well as they have been.”

While he has been bedding down into Middlesex’s County Championship side of late, Stirling has been largely absent from their NatWest T20 Blast schedule – the format that was widely regarded as his strongest suit.

Initially missing out due to a broken right index finger, Stirling was then rested from the side when it became clear that the Panthers’ chances of qualifying for the knockout phase were minimal.

However, he returned to the line-up last Friday, top-scoring with a knock of 64 from just 41 balls as Middlesex sprang a surprise at Southampton, where they defeated Hampshire by 50 runs – only their second success in the South Group this season.

And Stirling is keen to build on that performance when the Panthers’ 50-over campaign begins in the coming week – not just with the bat, but in his secondary role as an off-spinner as well.

“My finger’s recovering well – it feels ok batting at the moment and hopefully in another week or so it’ll be perfect to bowl with as well,” he said. “By the time those one-dayers come up, I think it’ll be 100 per cent right.

“I have to use all the experience I’ve got of one-day cricket – I’ve played a lot of it over the last five years and I think we’re all looking forward to the 50-over tournament, to be honest.

“I think we are a very strong 50-over side and hopefully we can prove that. The group is always going to be tough, but getting to a Lord’s final would be great.”

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