RICHARD Johnson has backed his Middlesex pace attack to fill the void left by Tim Murtagh’s international call-up in this week’s trip to fellow high-fliers Durham.
Murtagh’s (pictured) career-best 10-77 in victory over Somerset last week took Middlesex to the top of the County Championship standings and him to the summit of county cricket’s Most Valuable Player rankings.
The Seaxes’ quick already has 30 wickets for the campaign at an average of 15 – not bad for a man who started the season in the media shadow of Steven Finn, new arrival James Harris and England Lion Toby Roland-Jones.
However, while keen to hail the consistency of the man they call ‘Dial M', bowling coach Johnson insist the tenants of Lord’s have the squad to cope while Murtagh is on duty for Ireland.
He said: “I’m not surprised at Murt’s success because his record over the last five years or so speaks for itself.
“He might not be talked about as much as some of the others, but we know what he is about so it is really history repeating itself.
“Murts is something of a one-off because he is still improving. This winter he has worked on more of an in-swinger which he has not really had in his armoury before, but can now bowl across the left-handers.
“So he’s not just sitting back and settling for what he has achieved he is carrying on learning and adding new skills to his game.
“But we have worked on assembling a squad to cope with occasions like these so this week Murts goes off and Corey Collymore steps in and he’s not a bad replacement."
Murtagh’s absence at Chester-Le Street will throw more expectation on the likes of Roland-Jones and Harris.
Johnson admits the former, for good reasons has not quite hit his straps so far this term, despite a six-fer and a hat-trick, while Harris has had a disrupted start to life at Lord’s because of a hamstring injury.
Yet their former Middlesex and Somerset mentor is not losing any sleep over his too highly regarded young charges.
He added: “Toby is not feeling 100 per cent with his bowling and by his own admission has not hit maximum rhythm.
“He did a lot of bowling last year, then had his first trip away in the winter, so is experiencing non-stop cricket for the first time and a few bad habits creep in so there are a couple of little technical things to work on.
“You cannot bowl at the top of your game all the time, but the good thing with Toby is even when he is not in top form he still bowls a number of unplayable balls and that is a good trait to have.
“James came beautifully through his first full game for some weeks down at Taunton and while he is not in 100 per cent match shape yet he is getting better every day.”