Middlesex seamer Toby Roland-Jones on his county’s Championship defence, snaring Amla on his England debut and rediscovering his love of batting.
Middlesex are still searching for a first County Championship win of the season – with four draws and one defeat so far – but with the division so tight, do you still see yourselves in the title hunt?
No doubt, it’s still so early in the season. We drew our first six games last season and there was certainly no talk about where it left us if we wanted to make an assault on the title. We focused on the cricket we were trying to play and whether we were good enough on the day, and that will be no different this season. We’ve got a game coming up against Yorkshire at home which is as good a time as any to really try and find that first win of the season. But it’s important not to push too hard and remove ourselves from the processes and the good things that we’ve done over the last few years.
How pleased have you been with your own form?
It’s been a mixed bag. I feel like I’ve bowled nicely for the most part but at times I’ve possibly been straining for a little bit too much. The main thing is you want to be contributing and in that sense I can be happy with the way I’ve started. The one-day campaign was a tricky one for the squad as a whole. I actually found I was probably finding my best rhythm around that time but as a team we didn’t really manage to do ourselves justice. Similar in the four-day stuff – as a team we’re yet to put together a whole performance and I think my form is probably a little bit symptomatic of that as well.
You recently made your full England debut. How did you find the experience?
It was really special to get to make my full England debut at Lord’s in front of a packed crowd. At the same time, it’s a game of cricket and you want to be winning every game you play so it was a bit of a shame that wasn’t the case, but certainly to get a taster of international cricket and what is a really good dressing room at the moment was really special. It leaves you wanting more.
And Hashim Amla wasn’t a bad name for your first England wicket.
Yeah, absolutely. A good scalp first up, and a lovely moment. I probably didn’t get to celebrate in the way I normally would due to the game situation but once the dust settled a bit I could look back on a really enjoyable day.
At the age of 29, were you starting to wonder if your chance with England would ever come?
I tried my best not to focus on it too much while also doing my best to strive in domestic cricket and in doing so put myself in position to be noticed for the next step. I always try not to get too hung up or too caught up in the process of thinking about what’s next potentially. But you always hope that people are noticing if you’re putting in consistent performances.
Is it fair to say you were a bit of a late developer, or did it just take a while for people to notice how good you were?
I don’t know, to be honest. I wouldn’t necessarily say I was a late developer. I certainly got into the professional game later but by the same token I made my full debut in my first year with the club and I’ve been playing fairly consistently ever since. It’s more that it’s taken a while to get international recognition but that’s the case for a number of players and if you look at the strength of the English bowling attack for the last five years then I certainly don’t feel there’s any shame in struggling to break into that.
Did you think you might be in the frame for a call-up when Chris Woakes went down injured in the Champions Trophy?
If I’m honest I was trying not to think a great deal about it. I always felt like Steve [Finn] was the guy next in line, but at the same time you don’t want to be too negative about things and to be spoken about is exactly what you want in those situations. I was really happy for Steve when he got the call.
Your batting has really come on over the last couple of seasons. Is it right you were a batsman in your youth?
Yeah, growing up through age group and colts cricket I was more of a batsman and only bowled very occasional medium pace. Only when I was about 17 did that change. I had a bit of late growth spurt and my batting wasn’t particularly good any more. So I found myself quite enjoying running in and bowling and from then it just seemed to go from strength to strength and gather momentum.
Did you identify batting as an area in which you wanted to improve?
It’s become a really key component of the game, tail-enders being able to contribute, and it’s certainly an area I’ve worked on considerably. I suppose sometimes for a tail-ender it’s as much about your approach and mindset. As a youngster batting lower down the order you almost get pigeonholed and your mindset allows you to feel like you are a tail-ender. I’ve tried to be a bit more positive and thrive off making any contribution I can. It seems to have helped over the last few years and I’ve been scoring a few more runs and making some telling contributions.
The NatWest T20 Blast gets going in early July. Middlesex have brought in Daniel Vettori as T20 coach, and Brendon McCullum is returning. Should we expect a new approach from the team?
He [Vettori] will be hoping to add something fresh to the group. I don’t think there’s been a lack of strength in the squad. We just need to find a way of putting together consistent performances that last over the course of the campaign. We certainly came closer to that last year in qualifying for the quarter-finals and we managed to maintain our form a lot better. It’s something as a squad we need to address, that we’ve been a little bit short for a numbers of years now, and the club have certainly done that.