Toby Roland-Jones is maintaining the strong Middlesex representation for the England Lions against Pakistan A this winter – and if he can match the performances of his county team-mates, Dawid Malan and Steven Finn, before Christmas, he’ll be delighted.
Roland-Jones is one of three newcomers to the Lions set-up this winter for the second five-match series against Pakistan A. Somerset’s Craig Overton has joined his twin brother Jamie, and Yorkshire’s Liam Plunkett adds even more potency and competition within the pace bowling ranks, as after sealing a 3-2 win in a fluctuating T20 battle last month the Lions aim for a repeat in the 50-over format.
The series starts next Wednesday but Roland-Jones was informed after training today by the Lions coach Andy Flower that he will take the new ball in the first of two warm-up games against the United Arab Emirates.
“I’m aware I haven’t got much time to dip my feet in, I’ve got to find my way pretty quickly,” said the 27-year-old, who made a previous Lions tour to Australia three winters ago – alongside Craig Overton, Ben Foakes and current captain James Vince - and has since made home summer appearances in red and white ball fixtures against New Zealand.
He describes his Lions recall, which was delivered by his Middlesex Managing Director of Cricket Angus Fraser in his role as an England selector, as “a bit of a shock, but a good one. It was Gus who called me, about three days before Christmas. A few alarm bells went off about how rehearsed and ready I was, but I managed to get a bit of work done over Christmas that I didn’t originally have planned, and I’ve come out here and settled in pretty quick.”
Roland-Jones made a significant contribution to Middlesex’s second-placed finish in the LV= County Championship in 2015, with 48 wickets at 27 including five for 27 in the penultimate fixture against Yorkshire at Lord’s – a game that also featured his maiden first-class century.
But he is relishing this chance to prove he can be just as effective with the white ball – and a List A record of 71 wickets at 24.14 provides a solid base for that.
“I would like to show on trips like this that I probably shouldn’t be considered only a red-ball bowler,” he confirmed. “Red ball is probably where I’ve had the main success of my career, and played the largest part. But I’m quietly happy with my stats in 50-over cricket - or 40-over as it’s been in the past – in the last two years certainly, taking the new ball. The game being slightly longer allows a bowler to dictate a little bit more at the start of the game than they have done in the past. It’s nice for any of us seamers who enjoy the new ball to feel like the game is for you as well as for the batter.”
He will join Malan as two of the elder statesmen of the squad, with Plunkett and Stephen Parry – and is looking forward to linking up with his Middlesex team-mate for the first time in England colours.
“I certainly look older when I run than he does,” Roland-Jones joked. “It’s not to say you’re old, it just shows the depth in the country at the moment, that a lot of these guys are young but have already made big impressions at their county. I don’t feel old per se but to be in the older bracket, it’s happening at Middlesex as well. But it’s something to enjoy. As you get older you try and adopt that role of having a bit more experience and bringing more to the team as a whole.”
Malan certainly showed the benefit of that experience in the T20 series, following half centuries in each of the first two matches with a matchwinning performance in the decider. “It’s great to see him doing well,” added Roland-Jones. “It isn’t a surprise he’s backed up a good few seasons in county cricket and hopefully he carries it on out here, doesn’t put himself under too much pressure to continue, and carries on what he’s been doing – that’s one of his strengths, remaining in the zone. And I can watch him pile them on.”
Roland-Jones was equally pleased, and unsurprised, by Finn’s contribution to the Lions’ pre-Christmas success, as he took four wickets in two appearances to remove any doubts about his fitness to rejoin the senior England team in South Africa.
“It’s great to see him fit and firing again, especially given everything he’s been through,” he said. “He’d got himself bowling better than ever last summer, I think, and then to come back and make that impact straight away with the Lions showed the underlying confidence he’s got now. When he’s on that sort of run of form there are very few people better.”