Simpson pleased with Helm development as Middlesex eye up Championship revival

Lord's Taverners medals

John Simpson’s palms are stinging and the Middlesex wicketkeeper says that can only mean one thing - Tom Helm is fit and firing.

Helm thrived with the new white ball in Middlesex’s One-Day Cup campaign and was at his devastating best for 5/36 in his county’s first four-day win of the season at Worcestershire.

The 25-year-old’s career has been racked with injury, restricting him to just nine Championship appearances across 2017 and 2018, but Simpson says he's finally at full match sharpness.

“Tom's been fantastic so far this season. He’s swinging the ball, at good pace, with great control,” said Simpson, speaking at the Lord’s Taverners National Table Cricket Finals.

“I've got the best view in the house, to watch that and see batters jumping around the crease.

“He's had a couple of niggles and obviously, in the past, his injury record hasn't been great.

“Everyone’s saying he's more of a white-ball bowler. You watch him at Worcester or ask the Worcester batsmen, a talent like that can bowl in all three formats.”

It’s hard to imagine Middlesex stalwart Simpson, who has now served the county for a decade, having much sympathy for the struggles of city rivals Surrey in the County Championship.

But as part of the side that sunk from champions in 2016 to relegation fodder a year later, the gloveman knows just how tough it is to defend the summer’s crown.

Surrey are floundering in defence of the Division One title – winless in their first five games with an misfiring overseas player in Dean Elgar and a creaking, injury-ridden bowling attack.

It’s inconceivable, with only one side dropping into Division Two next season, that Surrey would suffer that fate but Simpson sees parallels in the fortunes of the near neighbours.

“In red-ball cricket, it can be so hard to keep that momentum going across seasons,” he said.

“Surrey are struggling at the minute. They've obviously had a few injuries, World Cup call-ups, and we suffered from that too.

“It's a combination of things, teams work you out and get that bit more up for playing against the champions.

“You get your just rewards and we weren't anywhere near the standard of the year when we won the title. That's why we got relegated and that’s why we’re still in Division Two.

"Both us and Surrey have put in some good individual performances but if you're not doing it consistently enough, those four-day wins aren't going to come."

In truth Middlesex haven’t really been the same since Toby Roland-Jones wheeled away, taking a hat-trick to earn their first Championship title in 23 years back in September 2016.

After relegation in 2017, mired in crossbow controversy, their batsmen let them down in Division Two with only bottom side Glamorgan amassing fewer batting bonus points.

And after a similarly sluggish start to this season Simpson is under no illusion that four wins from their next four games, before the t20 Blast kicks in, is an absolute must.

“We're just trying to find a DNA, something we can take forward in four-day cricket in terms of an identity,” said the 30-year-old.

“We've got four games coming up until the Blast now and we need to try and win those four. If we can do that, we'll be right up amongst it at the top.

“It's hard to put a number of wins on it if you're not playing good cricket. But I think three wins would be great, four would be the dream and that's what we need to be aiming for.”

The Lord’s Taverners is the UK’s leading youth cricket and disability sports charity whose aim is to give disadvantaged and disabled young people a sporting chance – go to www.lordstaverners.org to find out more