‘I’m ready to play for England’: Middlesex star Nick Gubbins talks leggies, Second Division dogfights and stating his international case

By Sam Dalling

Middlesex star Nick Gubbins wants to follow in the footsteps of Joe Denly by becoming England’s next leg-spinning all-rounder. 

The 26-year old seemed a shoe-in for test honours a few years ago having dominated bowling attacks up and down the land in 2016; his impressive total of 1409 first-class runs helped his side secure a first County Championship crown since the early 1990s. 

At that point it was assumed to be a question of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’ the opener stepped up to the international arena. 

However, while the former Radley pupil has improved his one-day exploits, the red-ball runs have dried up, leaving plenty of ground to be made up if he is to force his way back into minds of the selectors.  

It’s been a different tale though for
Denly – a senior member of the Lord’s dressing room when Gubbins was coming
through the ranks at HQ – who has flourished since returning to Kent five years

Following a string of consistently
impressive seasons with the bat, a long-awaited test cap finally came in early
2019 against the West Indies – and the part-time leg-spinner has been an ever
present in the side since. 

At the time, the selectors made it clear that Denly’s 57 victims across all formats the previous summer had tipped the balance in his favour.

And the point is far from on Gubbins who spent a decent chunk of the off-season dusting off the second string to his bow in a bid to emulate the success of his former teammate.

“People won’t have heard much about my leg-spin but I bowled a lot
when I was younger and picked up 10-fer in a Second XI Championship game once,”
he explained. 

“Then when I broke into the first team so young I was worried
about losing my place and focussed solely on batting.

“But any leg spinner that can land them is pretty sought after,
and so it’s a big part of my game I want to do well in. 

“Before I went to Sydney over the winter I told them I wanted to bowl again, and they let me do it – particularly in one-day cricket. 

“Look at Joe Denly – he was a great net bowler at Middlesex but
never bowled as much as he should have in matches.

“Every players dream is to play for England – I’ve been close at times and I’ve been far away at others – and Joe’s gone to Kent, worked on his bowling and it has definitely helped him get an England spot.”

Gubbins had high
hopes for 2020 having enjoyed considerable success during a stint plying his
trade down under for Sydney CC.

After several winters of England Lions involvement, the left-hander missed out this time around following a lean run of form in the domestic second tier.

But not one to
feel sorry for himself, the former Leeds/Bradford MCCU man dusted himself off
and jumped on a plane to the other side of the globe in search of that extra

A pair of triple digit scores and nine half-centuries later, Gubbins had an impressive 852 run haul across all competitions, as well as a national club t20 championship winner’s medal – a tournament in which he was named joint Player of the Season.

The trip to
foreign shores gave the Middlesex man time focus on his own game and reflect to
professional career to date.

And the youngster has revealed his belief that the experience will stand him in good stead as he looks to push his game to the next level.

“I had a winter to my own devices having had a tough year in the first-class game and missing out on the Lions squads,” he explained.

“That setup is amazing – they try and make you feel like you are with England and it’s a real insight into touring and international cricket.

“But I’ve banked
that knowledge and I’d never really done a year abroad on my own so this was
perfect opportunity to get away.

“In a way, I could put myself first. This winter was as all about me – every batting session and every gym session I did was for me, and I think I made the most of it.

“I had time to
look internally and reflect on the highs and lows of my career so far.

“It had all
become too serious and I’d become too serious as a result – now I’m back to
really enjoying my cricket.

“The place I’m in now is as ready as I’ve ever been to play for England, both mentally and physically, and I can only do this by putting runs on the board for Middlesex and helping them win games.”

Such sentiments
will be music to the ears of Middlesex fans who need no reminding it’s been a
tricky couple of years.

Following the
high of their County Championship triumph, the Lords outfit followed up with
immediate relegation and have since endured two failed promotion bids. 

Although there
were green shoots of recovery last year – the club progressed to the
quarter-finals of both domestic cup competition with Stuart Law and Nic Pothas
at the helm – there’s no getting away from the reality that such a talented
squad is under performing.

And that’s a fact that Gubbins is only too aware of, although he stressed that the dressing room now knows exactly what is required of them ahead of another promotion scrap.

“Cricket has a funny way of kicking you in the backside, and following the 2016 high we had the low of relegation immediately afterwards,” he admitted.

“We’ve perhaps
been trying to play pretty cricket, when actually we have needed to look at
what’s a good score on the day and work out how to get there.

“My experience
has been that there’s very little difference in terms of quality between the
two divisions, but the second division is more of a dogfight, and we haven’t
got to grips with it.

“It’s been an
incredibly frustrating couple of years and I really feel for the fans.

“We feel that as
players and coaches too and it’s certainly not through a lack of trying.

 “But it’s
a really talented group of players but we have underperformed in red ball
cricket and that has to change.”

In an alternate
reality, the 26-year old would be lighting up Division Two of the County
Championship right now in a bid to push his name back into the minds of the
test selectors. 

However, as with
almost all his county cricketing compatriots, the top-order man is currently on
Her Majesty’s payroll and can only watch and wait as the COVID-19 crisis

With England’s
leading lights set to return training of sorts this week, there remains a quiet
optimism that a domestic season of sorts will take place – although quite how
that’ll look is anyone’s guess.

One thing’s for sure though; as and when cricket does get the green light from the government, it will look very different to game the nation has come to love.

“Bio-secure” and “spectatorless” are sure to live long in the memory as 2020’s buzz words, but Gubbins is sure his county will go the extra mile to ensure the sound of bat on willow rings out once more.

“The position
changes week in week out, but if the internationals go well in July, we may
well get some sort of competition in August,” he said.

“Making grounds
bio-secure and ensuring its financially viable – these are going to be
difficulties for sure.

“But at
Middlesex we want to play even if it costs us financially. We are a cricket
club and we want to play cricket.

“I can’t speak
for anyone else but I wouldn’t have an issue with any precautions put in place.

“If that means being in quarantine and away from the family, that’s fine – I’m used to it when away on tour.

“I get paid to play the game and right now I’m not doing that. I’d do anything to play cricket again.”

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