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over 4 years ago | Interviews


Another white-ball campaign, another disappointing end for Middlesex. And yet, this was a disappointment different from the rest, a regret not at sub-par levels of performance, but at elimination arriving against the tide, and when hopes were building realistically of an assault on the title, having qualified for the knockouts for the first time since 2009.

The Seaxes’ exit was valiant, with James Harris extending his maiden List A half-century into a majestic 117, dragging Middlesex from 24-5 to the brink of chasing down Lancashire’s 304-4 and securing a place in the semis. It was an effort that showed that, even in defeat, the Seaxes’ spirit remained intact.

“We showed we can beat anyone on our day,” says leg-spinner Nathan Sowter. “It’s just that consistency of how we were approaching our cricket maybe found us out. But that wasn’t a massive issue because we knew we’d have days it wasn’t going to work and we’d have days it would work. It was disappointing to get knocked out, because the year before we weren’t that far away from being contenders, and we beat [eventual winners] Somerset in the trophy as well. I think all in all it was a good white ball campaign, and it stands us in good stead going into the T20s later in the season.”

Sowter himself was an integral part of Middlesex’s campaign, ending second on the wicket-takers charts for all teams with 25 scalps. He only went wicketless once, claimed at least three wickets in an innings on five occasions, and got the team’s tournament off to a flyer, snaring 6-62 against Essex – his maiden career five-for – to help reduce them from 205-1 to 328 all out.

“It just clicked,” he says. “I’m playing a little bit of a different role. Now they try to bowl me a little bit deeper in the game, putting pressure on the batsmen to score a lot of runs off me, and with a lot of games in a short period of time I just got a roll on.”

The blink-and-you’ll-miss-it nature of the competition might have allowed Sowter to build his momentum, but also presented its own challenges. From Shane Warne to Mushtaq Ahmed, when it comes to leg-spin, fitness has rarely been a buzzword, but Sowter credits his time spent in the gym in the off-season as integral to his efforts this summer.

“I worked quite hard in the winter with [Middlesex coach] Alan Coleman over the winter,” says Sowter. “My body is more durable now so it allowed me to perform at my best when we had lots of back-to-back games. We had a big run of games early in the season. We had five games which we played day on, day off and I think being stronger helped me massively to recover. I’m not the biggest bloke. The likes of Shane Warne, he’s quite stocky. But I was a bit on the slimmer side, more fast-twitch fibres so I needed to get my strength up in the winter.”

Sowter’s success is symptomatic of a change in approach across the side, with Middlesex favouring something close to all-out attack, putting the opposition under pressure from the off. “I’ve always been given license to bowl aggressive,” Sowter says. “But I think the mentality of the whole team has allowed me to flourish a bit more, and with how we were batting it allowed me to bowl a lot more aggressive. With a lot of runs on the board you’re allowed to bowl a few bad balls and then it gives you the opportunity to take a couple of wickets. If we had to bowl first, my role wasn’t too dissimilar, just try to take wickets in the middle and keep the scoring rate down by taking wickets.”

Sowter has become fixture of Middlesex’s white-ball sides since making his debut in 2016, but this was a breakthrough season. The question now is whether he can replicate his white-ball form in first-class cricket.

“I’ve always thought red-ball cricket is the pinnacle,” he says. “It’s a test of your skills over a longer period of time. I enjoy the excitement of white-ball cricket as well, but I feel that red-ball cricket can enhance my white-ball cricket game, because it allows me to operate my different skills for a longer period of time. I’m gonna try to bowl pretty similar. My job in this team is to be aggressive, to come on, break the partnership. Bowling from one end so the seamers can rest, that’s not my game.”

Since the One-Day Cup, Sowter has doubled his tally of Champonship appearances, taking the field in Middlesex’s ongoing encounter against Worcestershire. His efforts in the first innings encapsulated the lot of the English county spinner, with Sowter only brought on when the Pears were nine down, and bowling just 11 balls before striking and bringing an end to proceedings. His limited-overs exploits should earn him an extended stint in the side nonetheless; such was their magnitude, some have even suggested it might not be long until we see Sowter earn international honours.

It was something Sowter thought might pass him by. Having been born and raised in Australia, playing for England would have necessitated fulfilling a seven-year residency period, and while he might well be the second-best Australia-qualified wrist-spinner going, playing for them would jeopardise his status as a non-overseas player at Middlesex.

Now, with the ECB’s regulations having changed to come into line with the ICC’s policy, all of a sudden Sowter is England-qualified, and churning out the performances to turn some heads. Still, he’s not getting ahead of himself.

“It honestly wasn’t on my mind because of the qualification period, but that’s been changed in the last six months,” he says. “You go from not really thinking about it, thinking, ‘just do your job’, to having dreams of playing international cricket. If the opportunity comes I’ll take it with both hands, but right now I’m just concentrating on doing my best for Middlesex.

“Of course you want to put your name in lights and one day play for England, but at the moment it’s not in my mind to be honest with you. I did well in the one-day campaign just trying to put away the outside stuff and worry about my own game. The rest looked after itself. “

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