Toby Roland-Jones has enjoyed an impressive start to the season for Middlesex (Picture: Getty)Middlesex star and former England bowler Toby Roland-Jones insists he is ‘really enjoying’ his cricket after a difficult few years with injury and is determined to sustain his form over the course of a season.
Four years ago it appeared as though Roland-Jones, then aged 29, was set to establish himself as an England regular, having taken a five-wicket haul – and eight in the match – on debut against South Africa.
He also impressed in the Test series against West Indies later that summer, taking seven wickets in two matches, but his hopes of playing a part in the Ashes tour that winter were ended by a back injury he suffered while playing in the County Championship.
Since then, Roland-Jones’ career has been blighted by injury problems (he missed the entirety of last summer’s Bob Willis Trophy with a shoulder issue), but now fit and firing, he is keen to enjoy a productive summer for Middlesex.
‘Being able to play the first three games of the year and feeling really strong in each match is definitely pleasing,’ he told Metro.co.uk.
‘You want to be as fit and as available as possible. I’ve been lucky that the club have backed my feeling that as long as I can get myself back fit, I can still contribute and take wickets and impact on games.
‘I think you always have a decent perspective on things when you have had those spells out. You try not to get too high or carried away, but it’s been great. I’m really enjoying my cricket at the moment and hopefully I can sustain that over a season.’
Roland-Jones took seven wickets during Middlesex’s victory over Surrey (Picture: Getty)Roland-Jones was speaking a couple of days after Middlesex’s ten-wicket victory over London rivals Surrey, in which he took seven wickets, including the dismissals of England stars Ollie Pope and Ben Foakes and South Africa great Hashim Amla.
‘That’s always important as a bowler,’ he said.’ ‘You want to contribute wickets and take those important wickets. I felt like I bowled well in the first two games so I wanted to carry that on against Surrey and maintain some form over a few games.’
Rivalries aside, Middlesex’s victory over Surrey was particularly significant as they had lost their first two games of the season.
They were beaten by Bob Willis Trophy runners-up Somerset despite bossing the first two days of the match and securing a first-innings lead of 141, and were skittled for 79 by Hampshire and Mohammad Abbas on their way to a heavy defeat in Southampton.
‘We spoke as a group about the fact we were playing some good cricket in patches,’ Roland-Jones, 33, said. ‘It was nice to sustain that for longer against Surrey.
‘We certainly spoke about some bowling and batting principles we wanted to meet and I think that showed last week, it was a pretty strong team performance.
Middlesex lost their first two games before beating London rivals Surrey (Picture: Getty)‘The squad has got a really good balance, I think. Some of the young guys are starting to get some games under their belt now and starting to find their feet. It’s always pleasing when guys show that development and understanding.
‘Robbie White has played a couple of really gritty knocks in difficult scenarios, Ethan Bamber has started the season really well too. Seeing those guys improve is great and then you’re looking for the senior guys to balance it out.’
As one of those senior players, Roland-Jones was delighted to remove the dangerous Amla during Middlesex’s recent win. It was the seventh time he has dismissed Amla in ten innings, a record that stretches back to 2014.
‘I don’t really know what to make of that to be honest,’ Roland-Jones said when reminded of his remarkable record against the South African.
‘If you play guys over a long period I guess there’s always a chance that things like that might happen – but I can’t really explain it.
‘Things need to fall into place, you need a bit of luck. It’s a pleasing one because he’s a fantastic player and has been over a long time, so I’ll definitely take it!’
ð | WICKET FOR ROLAND-JONES!Ollie Pope goes for 22 ðSurrey 51/3 after 16 overs #OneMiddlesex— Middlesex Cricket (@Middlesex_CCC) April 22, 2021
Roland-Jones has also been pleased by the form of Sam Robson, the Middlesex and former England opener.
The 31-year-old, who played seven Tests for England in 2014, scored a brilliant 165 in the defeat to Somerset, and 95 against Surrey.
Roland-Jones added: ‘Sam’s started the season in unbelievable form, he’s looked fantastic. Anyone who scores runs at the start of the season, even though there has been some big scoring, it’s particularly impressive.
‘Sometimes the way someone goes about their business, you can just tell they’re full of confidence. He’s making the most of opportunities and assuming that responsibility at the top of the order as a senior guy.
‘He looks in great touch which is really great to see. Hopefully he can keep cashing in for us.’
Robson’s runs could be crucial this week when Middlesex travel to Taunton to face Somerset.
Roland-Jones celebrates dismissing Hashim Amla while playing for England (Picture: Getty)Roland-Jones admits the team were ‘very disappointed’ to lose to Somerset earlier in the month but says it is clear they can compete with any team in the country.
‘We look back on that match with disappointment but it gave us plenty of lessons to learn,’ he said. ‘Hopefully if we get an opportunity like that again we really maximise it and make sure there’s no let up.
‘We showed a lot of what we can do in that match and we need to make sure we don’t let the momentum shift like that again.’
Roland-Jones’ brief but impressive Test career will always be a source of great pride – he averaged less than 20 in seven red-ball matches for England – but the Middlesex man is keen not to obsess about the past, although he admits those memories can provide a timely reminder of his ability.
‘You can’t not recognise that as a particularly enjoyable period of your career,’ he said. ‘But I think the time to look back at that is probably towards the end of your career.
‘Once I finish playing it will be a great thing to look back on. It was a particularly pleasing time and it can be good to look back at it now and then to remind yourself what you can do.’
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