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over 5 years ago | Interviews


2018 could hardly have contained a greater range of emotions for Middlesex Women. There was the joy of securing a maiden T20 title, but that jubilation was set against relegation from Division One of the 50-over County Championship, a turnaround which came as a shock to a side which had grown used to life in the top tier.

“Last year was disappointing,” says 50-over captain Naomi Dattani now. “It was in two halves. Our T20 was the best we’ve ever played, and we knew that everyone was in a good mindset. In the 50-over competition the issue was our knowledge of the game in terms of what skills we needed at a particular time. We probably needed to practice that a bit more.”

The challenge for the Seaxes is to improve their game awareness without losing any of that exuberance that brought them such success in the shortest format. “We’ve really worked over the winter on how to take the really good skills from T20 and lengthen that over the 50-over game,” says Dattani. “Everyone’s in a really good space in terms of their game and they understand their roles, so we’re really excited and hopefully we can create a winning streak and get promotion to Division One again.”

Middlesex’s squad is young – Dattani reckons the average age is 23 years old – and some recklessness is surely to be expected. At 24, Dattani is a relative veteran. She is entering her third year of club captaincy, a role she splits with Natasha Miles. Dattani leads in 50-over cricket, and Miles in T20.

“She probably takes the bad cop role more than I do!” Dattani says. “She’s a lot more vocal than I am. We complement each other quite well, where I might not say something straight away and she might. When she’s captaining in T20 I’ll give her a little nudge now and again and she’ll do the same for me in 50 over. It’s a good partnership.

“I think I’ve finally settled into the role. I finally know the way I want to lead the girls. I’m quite a relaxed captain, both vocally and off the field. I have a lot of patience. I’m really enjoying it and I really like being in a leadership role and helping the younger ones as well.”

Just as for Dattani, the rest of the squad will surely have benefitted from another year’s learning, although the Seaxes’ experience quotient did take a hit with the departure to Kent of England international Fran Wilson. Finding herself on the fringes of national selection, she has moved to continue playing Division One cricket in an effort to stake her claim. But while her loss will be keenly felt, it could also force Middlesex’s youngsters to grow up fast.

“You can’t deny Fran’s experience in being an England player and what she offers, but it’s really exciting for us as a squad, each player trying to hold their own and take on that responsibility,” reasons Dattani. “Sometimes we might have put too much effort on Fran to be that England player and do the job, so this year it’s about each player taking responsibility because everyone’s capable of scoring fifties and hundreds.”

Middlesex will still have a current England international in their ranks, with precocious all-rounder Sophia Dunkley having made her debut during last November’s World T20, playing every game as England’s quest to bring home the trophy was ended at the final hurdle.

“She’s one of our senior players now,” says Dattani of the 20-year-old Dunkley. “She’s had such great opportunities with England and has learnt so much. She’s very calm and collected in how she goes about her cricket, and it’s really nice to have her experience in a team that is actually quite young. To have her is great for her knowledge, and she brings a bit of fun to the team as well.

“In terms of plans and how she goes about thinking about her cricket and the processes that she goes through, just having conversations with other players about that is really helpful. She knows what to do when and the kind of plans that she has, the other spinners can learn from her, and the other batters can learn a few things too. It’s always good to keep learning and see what the guys above are filtering down and bringing to the counties below.”

Another learning opportunity presents itself on May 29, when an historic clash against Surrey at Lord’s is set to take place for the London Cup; supposedly a friendly, but always fiercely contested. It will be the first time that two women’s county sides have faced off at the Home of Cricket, with Middlesex having ended the 83-year wait for a women’s game at Lord’s last year against an MCC side.

That fixture also broke the record for the highest attendance for a domestic women’s game in England, and Dattani still remembers having her eardrums split by thousands of screaming schoolkids. “I had the pleasure of being on the boundary where all the spectators where. I think for a few of the girls it was a bit of a new experience being in a big stadium. Lots of people making a fuss over them and showing how important they are.

“I think there were a few nerves going out there and I think just playing that one game taught them a lot in terms of how to handle those pressures aside from the game itself. One year on, a lot of the younger ones are now a year wiser and more experienced so it will stand them in good stead for this game.”

As important as it is for player development, the game was also key to raise the profile of the women’s game. One photo, of the Middlesex players striding through the Long Room, was even nominated for the MCC-Wisden Photograph of the Year award. “It's such a historic ground, and we’re so fortunate and grateful to have that opportunity to go out and play. Everyone still loves seeing those pictures that day, and I’m sure we’ll love the occasion this year again.”

The history and glamour of Lord’s will have to wait, however. For now, Dattani and Middlesex face the scrap of Division Two to reclaim their place in the top tier.

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