Few players can be awaiting the new season as eagerly as Toby Roland-Jones – who says his desire to help Middlesex achieve success is greater than ever.
Roland-Jones has just emerged from an 18-month injury nightmare, with a recurring stress fracture of the back restricting him to just two appearances for his county side – as well as costing him a place in England’s Test squad.
Now the 31-year-old seamer is ready to return to the fray after an enforced absence that he feels actually helped to improve his knowledge of the game.
“I’m genuinely as excited as I’ve ever been to take the field for Middlesex and try to help the club win games,” said Roland-Jones.
“Getting to this point has required a lot of patience, but I’ve had a really positive pre-season and the ball seems to be coming out well. I’m hoping to make up for a bit of lost time now.
“Missing pretty much a full summer is difficult, but you learn a bit about yourself and appreciate more what you have when you are able to play.”
Roland-Jones, whose dramatic hat-trick against Yorkshire sealed the County Championship title for the Seaxes in 2016, first sustained his back injury in their penultimate match of the following season.
That setback ruled the paceman out of England’s winter tour to Australia, but he recovered in time for the domestic campaign in 2018 – only to break down again in Middlesex’s second game of the season, at Derby.
However, the club’s coaching staff encouraged Roland-Jones to remain part of the dressing-room environment during the team’s late – and ultimately unsuccessful – bid for promotion from Division Two.
“I was fairly hesitant to get involved too much,” Roland-Jones recalled. “But when Richard Johnson took over as coach until the end of the season, he pulled me aside for a chat and said he was keen for me to travel with the team.
“I was ramping up my rehab and I really enjoyed being around the guys during a positive finish to the summer. When you’re playing you get immersed in the game but, when you watch from the other side of the fence, you’re observing and picking up different things.
“We had a few youngsters who really progressed and it’s also nice to feel you might be able to give them little pockets of advice, so I’m grateful to the club for pushing me in that direction.”
Over the winter, Roland-Jones stepped up his fitness and recovery programme – taking a brief break for his wedding to fiancée Harriet – and is now working hard with the rest of the Middlesex squad under new coach Stuart Law.
“It’s incredibly positive, that feeling when a new coach comes in,” he added. “It sends a wave through the squad of guys wanting to impress and really make their mark.
“We’ve got a solid unit of players that have been around a while, but also young guys who are striving to come through and hopefully that should give us an added competitive edge.”
Thanks to Ben Kosky of the ECB Reporters Network for interviewing Toby for this, the first Middlesex feature article of the 2019 season.