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JUST CHAMPION!

A key man for Middlesex this summer in the defence of their title will be Toby Roland-Jones. Sophie Chapman put the questions to the seamer

You must be proud to be one of the Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack’s five players of the year?

I spoke with the editor, Lawrence Booth, but I’ve been keeping it tight to my chest. A few people have been under radio silence but now it’s been released I can savour the moment. The history the Almanack has… to be a part of that is something that certainly will be one of the prouder things when I look back on my career.

Looking to the 2017 campaign, ‘no complacency’ is a message that seems to have percolated through the squad…

It is coming from the top, from Gus Fraser, and management, but with the players there is already that kind of understanding that things are going to be tough this year, and we don’t start on any more points than anyone else. The struggle is going to be finding our feet early. When you win a Championship people come gunning for you and that’s a challenge that we’re going to have to relish.

How frustrating was it to be called into the England squad as 12th man last summer for the first Test v Pakistan and not get a cap?

I guess frustrating, but it was always going to be tricky to make enough of an impact in the two days’ training with the guys. I wasn’t consigning myself to not playing because you always want to feel ready but I was aware of the situation knowing that Bally [Jake Ball] had been in the squad and was always therefore most likely to be next guy in. It’s great to get a taste of that and meet the guys and the environment and I suppose that magnifying effect that you get in international cricket.

How was your winter with England Lions – in the first ‘Test’ you took a four-for and scored 82?

It was great. Sri Lanka as a place was enjoyable, first of all from the cultural side and outside the cricket. I think it’s always nice when you take a step-up in any level to feel like you are progressing – to challenge myself. I’ve come back a better bowler.

Tom Curran was called up during the Lions trip by the senior squad; did you think, ‘that could be me?’

When you’re away on those things you get caught up in the playing, but the reality is that [the selectors] are looking for the next guys to step in and do a job.

How many times have you relived that moment at the end of last season?

It is sometimes hard to get it out, to be honest, but Gus alluded to it – there really has to be a line drawn from my own point of view and from the team’s that now it is in the past. The second we start playing again we really start afresh.

Can Middlesex do a Yorkshire with back-to-back titles?

Absolutely. People are very quick to forget that Yorkshire were one game away from making it three games in a row last year so they’re certainly the benchmark in terms of achieving a level of performance and then maintaining it for a number of years. They still have the core of that group there this year so I’m sure they will be planning on more of the same. We drew our first six games last year so I think if we can try and drive games a bit more and start games off better, turn a few of those draws into wins early then that would be something to look at.

Middlesex learnt how to win at Lord’s last year, didn’t they?

It was attritional cricket and that was something that probably did take us a little while to get used to. Ollie Rayner managed to put in a number of match-winning performances here which you don’t see that often [from spinners] in either form of the game. I personally hope there’ll be a little more in the wickets, but if there’s not then we’ll be ready to sort of revert back to the simple things that we did so well last year.

Over the past three years you have taken an increasing number of Championship wickets (43, 48, 54) – do you think that will continue?

I think it’s going to end at some point! I’m hoping not this year, although there are fewer games (14) so you might have to cut me a bit of leeway. With 16 games 50 is a bit of a benchmark so actually the two years before missing out was something I always looked back on as an area I wanted to improve.

What about England this year?

I’m 29 now so there’s not too much looking forward at the moment; it is about putting yourself in a position to compete with these guys when the opportunities come around.

If your focus is purely on Middlesex and good performances then hopefully you can do enough with that alone to put yourself in the hat. So that’s all I’ll be doing, trying to hit the ground running and try and win games for Middlesex and yes, I think it would be great if we can get off to a good start and hopefully I can play a big part in that.

You thrive under the pressure of big games (scoring your maiden first-class century against Yorkshire in September 2015, bowling on the final day last season) – that would be handy at Test level…

I think every player would like to think that in those pressure moments you are going to come out on top at least more times than not. I certainly feel that when I hit a rhythm I can have a big influence and it’s pretty hard to get the ball out of my hand.

Were you getting frustrated at the lack of recognition – you bowl 80-85mph, you get something out of a flat wicket and you can bat?

It’s difficult to comment too much; I would probably try and steer pretty clear of looking too much into things like recognition and getting credit. It is actually not in the cliché way at all but I think you can be pretty satisfied with going home knowing you are putting performances in that are doing the team good.