North of the river Thames for this Shire Brigade, and it’s Middle Saxon Tim Murtagh.
If you were seeking a visual representation for the career of Tim ‘Dial M for’ Murtagh, you’d probably choose the EastEnders title card, since this son of Lambeth’s time in the professional game has been divided – not quite down the middle – by the great flow of the Thames.
With an uncle who played for Hampshire and a keen cricketing dad, passage into the Surrey set-up from Purley CC – a path also followed by younger brother Chris – seemed an inevitability, although his schoolteacher father insisted he first got himself a degree before committing to the game. It was while doing Sports Science at St Mary’s University in Twickenham, in 2001, that Murtagh made his first splash.
Picked to play for British Universities against the Pakistanis at Trent Bridge, he took six-fer, including the wickets of Saeed Anwar, Inzamam and Mohammad Yousuf, first ball. “I remember that clearly,” he tells AOC. “It swung around. James Foster was playing and took a couple of good catches. Actually, my choice of uni revolved around cricket. I wanted to stay as close to Surrey as I could. They were great, allowing me time off to play.”
Surrey were at the tail-end of a hugely successful period – winning Championship titles in 1999, 2000 and 2002, as well as lifting the Benson & Hedges Cup in 2001, the inaugural T20 in 2003 and the Pro40 in the same year – and Murtagh felt he had to leave in order to progress his career. “It was a massive thing for me. I’d been a Surrey youth from under 12s up and once I got into the first team I never imagined playing anywhere else. I didn’t feel mistreated or anything, but I wasn’t given as many opportunities as I would have liked in the four-day game.”
So, after 29 Championship appearances across five seasons, he hopped across the river. “I was out in Australia and Middlesex posted the contract out to me. It took me about a month to sign it, but I’m glad I did in the end. It was a big thing at the time, but I knew deep down it was the right time to move and, looking back, the right move for me. I went straight into the Middlesex team and took nearly 50 wickets in my first year, which is the benchmark I’ve set myself ever since. In my second year we won the Twenty20, so from really early on I felt established in that squad, like I’d been there for years.”
In Murtagh’s nine full seasons with Middlesex – the first five in Division Two and the latter four in the top tier – he has finished consistently high in the division’s wicket-taking charts: 15th, 1st, 4th, 20th, 2nd, 4th, 3rd, 5th, 23rd. And yet, despite his prolificacy, the opportunity to play for England remained elusive.
“It was probably when I was about 30 that I thought England had gone,” he reflects. “I remember taking 100 wickets in all forms one year and thinking I might get a Lions tour. I thought, ‘If I’m not being picked now, then it’s never going to happen’. Ireland called me up and I jumped at it. It was a chance for me to fulfil those ambitions. Even though it wasn’t for England, which would have been my first pick growing up, I’ve loved every minute of it.”
Now 35, Murtagh’s remaining goals are to play Test cricket for Ireland or an ODI at Lord’s, a ground that’s “always special to play at, even when it’s home”. A Lord’s final is another ambition. “I remember Surrey getting to a Benson & Hedges final and I was told the day before I’d be playing. Alex Tudor was struggling with an injury and I’d geared myself up to play, then the morning of the game I was told he’d made a miraculous recovery, so that was pretty gutting.”
Most of all, though, he’d love to win the County Championship with Middlesex. “I guess when you finish what will stick with you are the trophies you’ve won. I’ve got a Championship winners’ medal for 2003, but only played three games, so it would mean a lot more if I could do it in the next couple of years with Middlesex.”