Why England might have picked more Middlesex players for Bangladesh tour

17:02 19 September 2016

Toby Roland-Jones bowling for Middlesex

Toby Roland-Jones bowling for Middlesex

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Given Yorkshire’s recent domination of domestic cricket, it’s no surprise to see them well represented among England squads in all formats of the game.

Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow are both automatic picks for the national side, while Adil Rashid – notwithstanding his curious decision to sit out Yorkshire’s crucial clash with Middlesex this week – was always a likely selection for the spin-friendly wickets of Bangladesh.

Many may quibble over Gary Ballance’s inclusion in the Test squad for the upcoming tour, but otherwise it’s hard to imagine that any of the other Yorkshire call-ups – four for both the Tests and one-day internationals – would prompt much dissent.

Of the other Division One counties, Lancashire, Surrey and Durham are all represented by two players in the Test squad.

The same Durham duo – Ben Stokes and Mark Wood – also feature in the limited-overs party, where Hampshire are the only other county providing more than one player.

And Middlesex, who went into the final round of County Championship matches this week as the league leaders and only unbeaten side? Er – one player in the Test squad, Steven Finn. That’s it.

On the face of it, Middlesex’s impressive season appears to have been somewhat ignored – although Somerset, despite their challenge for a first ever County Championship title, have no players in either party.

Opener Nick Gubbins was tipped by some to get an England call after his outstanding season as Middlesex’s leading run-scorer, fully justifying the club’s decision not to seek to re-engage Chris Rogers.

However, that slot went to Haseeb Hameed. It is not an unreasonable decision – Hameed’s output has roughly matched that of Gubbins, and the Lancashire teenager also has the advantage of being a right-hander to partner the left-handed Alastair Cook.

It may be that Gubbins, who has only genuinely cemented his place at the top of the Middlesex batting order this season, will benefit in the long term from having to bide his time – which will, though, surely come.

Sam Robson, with seven Test caps already to his name, may also have had a strong claim for a recall if he had managed to maintain his excellent early-season form.

And, if Twenty20 were part of the programme for Bangladesh, Dawid Malan would surely have come into consideration – not least because of his previous experience in that country’s domestic T20 competition.

Off-spinner Ollie Rayner was another player whose name was bandied about for a possible call-up, having found real consistency this season and become the first Middlesex player to take 50 Championship wickets.

The selectors opted instead for the wise old head of Gareth Batty – at first glance, a surprising choice given that the Surrey skipper will turn 39 next month.

However, there are precedents for recalling veteran spinners on tours of the sub-continent – John Emburey and Shaun Udal, for instance, were both relatively successful examples of that.

The presence in the squad of Batty’s county colleague Zafar Ansari, who has gained England recognition for the first time, may be an extra reason for the selectors’ choice.

But there are two other members of the Middlesex side who can consider themselves genuinely unlucky to be overlooked – Toby Roland-Jones and John Simpson.

Roland-Jones, who was named in the 12-man squad for the Lord’s Test against Pakistan but left out in favour of Nottinghamshire’s Jake Ball, has been his side’s most reliable bowler this summer across all formats.

Although his wickets may come at a higher cost than some of his rivals, the Middlesex seamer can be extremely effective when it comes to making the ball move and just tying down one end.

In addition, Roland-Jones is a better batsman than many of the other bowlers in the England squad. Perhaps he might have made the cut if the national team were heading to a more seam-friendly venue.

Simpson is also a model of consistency for Middlesex, both with the bat and as wicketkeeper – behind the stumps, he is surely technically superior to Jos Buttler, if not Bairstow.

His batting average also compares favourably, but possibly Simpson loses out because he rarely compiles eye-catching scores in county cricket – a string of solid half-centuries are less likely to be noticed than the kind of big hundred Bairstow churns out so often.

Whatever the verdict of the England selectors, however – and whatever the outcome of the fight for the title – Middlesex can feel justifiably proud of their players’ efforts all summer.

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