Middlesex leg spinner Luke Hollman plots path to success via Tea Tree Gulley and (Ian) Salisbury

As teams have batted and batted and batted, ever deeper, plundering runs from Kookaburra balls on lifeless tracks, with one or two wildly off-centre wicket placements, debate has raged. On one side, the majority of fans and certainly medium pace bowlers have been far from happy. The shorter ball as Middlesex captain Toby Roland Jones said “was more or less removed from the equation” as a soft ball extracted little or no life out of soft April wickets. In the first two rounds of matches, admittedly with some weather interreference, just one game produced a result.

On the other hand, Rob Key, a man with a fair body of Championship runs behind him let’s not forget, expressed delight that new skills were being tested and games were lasting longer. As well as batters filling their boots, which can do no harm at all for confidence, there were, he felt, other beneficiaries. In the one game that did produce a result at Trent Bridge, a ground usually full of runs, Sam Cook of Essex forced himself squarely into the eyeline of England selectors with 10 wickets in that solitary win. Elsewhere, of huge interest is that Surrey’s Cameron Steel, whilst having the perfect name for a maverick television detective, is also leading Division One wicket taker after back-to-back five wicket hauls. Of real note though, is that he is leg spinner.  Yes, really. A leg spinner, in April, in England, taking wickets. As a famous football commentator once said “ Do not scratch your eyes”!  Middlesex fans may also recall that he had two years with the club before moving north to Durham and thence to Surrey.

Steel’s performance is very unlikely to have by-passed the notice of current Middlesex leg spinner Luke Hollman.  Luke, like Steel, is a leg spinning all – rounder.  He also possesses an attribute prized by Rob Key and Ben Stokes when selecting England’s spinners to take on the World’s finest in India. Not, as Liam Dawson will ruefully testify, a huge body of economical wickets in English conditions, but the ability to generate bounce from his considerable hight, in the manner of Shoaib Bashir and Tom Hartley. He can bat too.

Hindsight is, of course, twenty – twenty (although it’s yet to be franchised). But one wonders if Middlesex may feel they missed a trick in their first two matches not calling on Luke, as spinners elsewhere were getting more overs than they would usually expect. As it was, the off-spin of Josh De Caires was given plenty of work for the scant reward of a solitary wicket for 322 runs. Josh to his credit, never shirked and had moments of misfortune too.

Spinner Salisbury and Tea Tree Gulley hone Luke for the season ahead

When I caught up with him ahead of the season, Luke was freshly returned from playing grade cricket for Tea Tree Gulley in Adelaide and he enthusiastically recalled the high level of competition and the opportunity to bowl many overs and refine his craft. Whilst acknowledging that 2023 did not go as well it may have, he took regular List A wickets and feels he has matured further since taking a memorable ten wickets at Hove in 2021.

The arrival of former England leg spinner Ian Salisbury as a bowling coach last year, says Luke, “has massively helped me with the tactical side of things”, particularly, he is not slow to point out, given that the two grounds where the ball spins least are Lords and Durham.

Bashir, Hartley and Atkinson provide inspiration

This leads us to the inevitable question of the rapid elevation of the very youthful trio of Rehan Ahmed, Shoaib Bashir and Tom Hartley and whether this is cause for optimism. The answer is undoubtedly less, but refreshingly, Luke points out that “with any skill in this country, hard work and good performances are essential. “If you perform well”, he says, “you can put yourself on the map very quickly”, citing the example of Bashir but also Gus Atkinson and previously Mathew Potts.

The fact that both Bashir and particularly Hartley showed that they can bat a bit is a point that Luke seizes upon immediately. “That is one thing in my corner. I absolutely see myself as an allrounder with several stings to my bow”. The evidence from what was a disappointing last season for Middlesex is the Luke can justifiably make that claim after some very decent lower order knocks in all formats, often in adversity. Going forward, Luke has his sites on being the club’s leading spinner and a top six batter too. The quality and experience of opposition faced in Division One last year has helped that development and for this year he is very confident that the squad, with the additions of Henry Brooks and Leus du Plooy will be competing at the right end of Division Two. “I don’t want to pre-empt things” he says, “but I could probably put quite a lot of money on Leus scoring a thousand runs this season”. That’s not looking too bad a prediction at all, two games in and 233 of those runs already on the board for Leus.

In keeping with the spirit of optimism around the club, Luke also feels that Middlesex have the strength not just to return to Division One at the first time of asking, but also of doing well there. For him personally, “ruthlessness, hard work and eking out every possible thing from your game” is what he feels it ensure wickets and runs in all formats for Middlesex this season. And from there, all things for him are possible.

If you are taking Luke’s tip on Leus du Plooy, I might also suggest putting something on Luke to be as good as his word.

Listen to the full interview with Luke here: