(photo: Getty Images)
By Richard Edwards
For much of a previously troubled winter it seemed that the perennial search for a partner for Alastair Cook at the top of the order would soon be superseded by a frantic need to unearth a replacement for the man himself.
Cook’s monumental innings at the MCG has changed all that.
But if the need for an opener in either New Zealand or the home series this summer does arise, then Nick Gubbins has the backing of his county coach Richard Scott.
Gubbins endured a frustrating 2017 season at Lord’s following a dramatically successful introduction to the county game during Middlesex’s title-winning campaign the previous year.
The former Bradford and Leeds MCCU star scored 1,409 runs for his county at an average of 61 as Middlesex won their first Championship in 23 years.
That thrust him first into reckoning for the England Lions and then into contention for the full England side as Trevor Bayliss scrabbled around for alternatives at the top of the order.
Gubbins’ form fell away last season, due partly to injury, as he scored just 314 runs at an average of 24, registering a single century and two 50s as his county suffered relegation.
His batting for the Lions in two T20 matches against the Perth Scorchers in December, though, suggested that his confidence was returning – and Scott is in no doubt that Gubbins has an international future ahead of him, sooner rather than later.
“I think he’ll be the next cab off the rank,” he told The Cricket Paper. “We saw Toby Roland-Jones do well last year and we’ve had Nick and Tom Helm with the Lions this winter. We’ve also got four players in the England U19 World Cup squad. We pride ourselves on bringing young players through at Middlesex.
“Nick is a very good player and he’ll be fighting for an England place if a slot becomes available. He played a huge role in helping us win the Championship with his runs.
“Last year was a typical tail-off year but now he’s starting to show again for the Lions what he can do. I would be very surprised if he wasn’t pushing hard next year.”
Gubbins will not have to look too far for inspiration in that Middlesex dressing room – just a quick glance in the direction of Dawid Malan should provide that.
Gubbins’ county colleague has looked more comfortable than anyone in the full glare of the Ashes spotlight, repelling the Aussie quick bowlers during three successive England defeats when wickets were tumbling around him.
And if Gubbins can re-find his 2016 form, there could soon be two Middlesex left-handers in England’s top order.
“Technically, Nick is very good,” said Scott.
“He drives and he cuts and pulls well. But most importantly he has a strong mind – I think he has a great chance.”
A strong mind is what has sustained Cook throughout his Test career, with his mental fortitude singling him out as a cricketer of rare ability.
That has been brought to the fore again in this series, with his low-key celebration on reaching a century on day two of the Melbourne Test merely Cook’s way of steeling himself for further runs in England’s first innings.
His double century has brought some much-needed festive cheer during an otherwise miserable surrendering of the Ashes Down Under.
Mark Stoneman has generally looked solid as Cook’s opening partner and will know that a big score would put him in pole position to retain his place at the top of the order in New Zealand and beyond.
If that doesn’t materialise, then Gubbins will be one of the leaders in the chasing pack.