TRJ discusses team success and why Chris Dent trumps Benjamin Stebbings

For all Middlesex fans, an abiding memory of Toby Roland Jones will forever be that hattrick to win the 2016 Championship. Eight years on, Middlesex’s captain has had other highs but also some distinct lows. Exploding onto the international scene with wickets a plenty seemed the most natural progression from the triumph of 2016, but then came the agony of long-term injury and the false dawn on a brief comeback before another season long layoff.

This year will be a well-earned testimonial one for Toby, and whilst delighted to acknowledge his pride in that, he is quick to point out that at 36, it most certainly does not imply a final season. In my defence, I wasn’t about to suggest it was, but clearly others have!  “A lot of people suggest that it means the final year of my career and that is certainly not the case” he said with no small emphasis. He is “fit and ready as ever, still loving the game. It’s a huge honour and privilege to captain this team. It’s a team I’m really excited about”.

So, what is it that keeps Rojo firing as a player in his own right and as Middlesex captain?  The team this year, he says, “has a lot of players who are really entering a prime period and ready to strike hot” and it is clear that he relishes a role bringing the best out of them.

Chris Dent trumps Benjamin Stebbings in first wicket memories

My question “Do the names David Sales and Benjamin Stebbings still mean something to you?” was met with a ready laugh that suggests they most certainly do. Sales, the first of many for Middlesex wickets, came in the Clydesdale 40 and “wasn’t even a good ball”, caught pulling, apparently. Memories of poor old Ben Stebbings (bowled in a pre-season Oxford University match) seemed not to have the same recall. The first Championship wicket, that of Gloucester’s Chris Dent on the other hand, was “a definite marker” and “established a sense of belonging that still means just as much as it did then”.

With so many matches, wickets and ups and downs since, Toby reflected upon the benefits of a greater maturity to bring to the game and some levelling out in managing of both the good days and the bad as well as “being just a little less aggressive”. Probably true but I didn’t feel inclined argue that one.

Last year had certainly been a challenging one for Middlesex and whilst including a  seven- wicket haul for Toby against Essex and a couple of notable wins against Notts and Warwickshire was ultimately an unsuccessful one. As leader this season, says Toby, “the focus must be on encouraging individuals to step up and put their own stamp on the game a little more”. For both batting and bowling, partnerships are involved, but “you do need players to step up to the mark. All of us feel that we can contribute and do more on that front”.

The Pavilion End is still Toby’s, but now he can change if he wants to

Clearly in his leadership role, Toby feels his has a greater sense of “taking on board experiences, how to deal with different personalities and particularly having a representative view of what the game means to younger players”. It has, after all, changed in no small measure since 2010.

To that end, Toby is excited by the additions of Leus Du Plooy to add power to the middle order and of Henry Brooks, as well as having a fit Blake Cullen and a fully firing Tom Helm back to ensure “a strong attack with variation and lots of different ways of taking twenty wickets”. An attack, of course that Toby will be very much a part of, usually bowling with the old Pavilion behind him. However, looking out at the that first match wicket, positioned so far towards the Tavern, Toby says with a resigned laugh “that even at this stage in my career that still winds me up but I will still do it. That said if I want to change, I can do it now”. Tim Murtagh, of course, is no longer there with first Nursery End dibs.

Promotion, of course, must be the goal for Middlesex ideally as champions, but for Toby, just as importantly, it should be achieved within “the team framework of guys putting themselves in the position to challenge for the Division Two title”. That, he says with feeling, “would represent true success for me”.

Listen to the full interview with Toby here: