By Richard Edwards
Nick Gubbins’ career may have developed at breakneck speed in recent seasons – but the Middlesex opener is refusing to put a timescale on what many believe is inevitable.
Gubbins has been lording it for the Lions in their one-day tri-series against the West Indies and India and is now a front-runner to graduate to Joe Root’s England side sooner rather than later.
His call-up may come as early as the India Test series at the tail-end of what’s shaping up to be a glorious summer. Alternatively, he might have to bide his time until the selectors name their touring side to Sri Lanka for the winter. Either way, one thing appears certain – this university product will face a test examination in the very near future.
For now, though, he’s intent on doing what he does best for Middlesex and the Lions: scoring heavily with no clouds in sight.
“It’s beautiful isn’t it,” he says. “Better than cold April showers.”
Runs haven’t come like a flood for Gubbins since the dark days of spring, when batsmen were caught short against the moving ball on under-prepared pitches and stubbornly leaden skies.
But his form for the Lions, coupled with three half-centuries for his county in their opening eight Championship matches, suggest that’s he is once again re-finding the kind of form that brought him 1,409 runs at an average of more than 61 as Middlesex memorably won the title in 2016.
A leaner 2017 followed as Middlesex’s fortunes plunged last season but Gubbins still showed flashes of the class he had shown 12 months earlier.
And although he once again finds himself behind Keaton Jennings in the England pecking order, Gubbins will be aware that the top-order of Root’s side is far from a closed shop.
“I haven’t played any red-ball stuff in the past month,” he says.
“With Middlesex, things haven’t quite gone as we would have hoped as a team, which has been frustrating but personally I’m pretty pleased with how things have gone so far.
“Having missed the start of it, I’ve had the chance to work out a few technical things that I wouldn’t have been able to do in the West Indies (Gubbins flew home early from the North-South series with a grade two hamstring strain).
“That little window definitely helped me out before the start of the season. I’ve been making sure, with the bowling machine and also with Dave Houghton and Richard Scott, that I’m not falling over and also making sure that I’m not too square or closed off with my shoulders.
“Nothing that hasn’t been spoken about before but it really ensured that I was ready for the start of the season.
“If you do something every day, it can get a bit monotonous. Taking short breaks when you have the opportunity is really important to freshen up. It’s really important when you get a break that you make the most it.
“First and foremost, I’m looking to perform well for Middlesex.
“It’s great to be back playing more than anything. You read various things (about England) but it’s really just about enjoying my game because that’s when I play my best cricket.”
Jennings won his recall for the second and final Test of the Pakistan series, taking over from Mark Stoneman who has resembled a walking wicket so far this summer.
The Lancashire opener scored 29 in his only innings but slipped seamlessly back into an opening partnership with Alastair Cook that has been one of the more convincing since the retirement of Andrew Strauss in 2012.
“I’m pretty good friends with Keaton so I’m wishing him all the best at the moment,” he says.
“He started pretty well against Pakistan, I think. I’m looking forward to seeing my mate do well and England prospering as a result.”
It’s the response of a politician rather than a cricketer, but it’s one you expect from a young man who has his feet firmly on the ground.
Part of that could be put down to his background with the MCCU, with Gubbins first matches in the first-class game coming for Leeds/Bradford rather than Middlesex.
And it’s this grounding that has given him a welcome sense of perspective.
“I would recommend that route to anyone,” he says. “It gave me time to enjoy myself, enjoy my cricket and get a degree which takes the pressure off batting when the times aren’t so great.
“All sorts of things can go through your mind (when you’re short of runs) but having that degree does take a bit of the pressure off and ensure that I really enjoy my cricket.”
Gubbins’ degree came in geography, which is hardly surprising given his ability to locate the middle of the bat with such regularity for county and country.
England supporters could be about to see a whole lot more of him.
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