Interview provided by the ECB Reporters Network.
Joe Cracknell’s performances in the Metro Bank One-Day Cup have strengthened his case for inclusion in Middlesex’s red-ball batting line-up, according to first team coach Richard Johnson.
Cracknell finished the 50-over tournament as the Seaxes’ leading run-scorer after hitting 87, his highest score to date for the senior side, to set up their five-wicket victory over Yorkshire at Radlett.
Although he has just a single County Championship appearance to his name so far, Johnson regards the hard-hitting 23-year-old as a genuine option in the longer format as Middlesex prepare to resume their four-day campaign in September.
“I think the tournament will help Crackers in his red-ball and T20 career as well, it’s great learning for him,” said Johnson. “He’s someone we will definitely look at for red-ball cricket as well, moving forward.
“He’s desperate to be multi-format and play red-ball cricket and we see that in him, 100 per cent. When I came back to the club, he was a number three in T20, but we’ve now opened the batting with him.
“It took him time to understand what opening is about. Everyone thinks it’s the easiest time to bat, but it also comes with a lot of responsibility – if you don’t get a boundary away very early you are under pressure.
“Learning how to do that in T20 has really helped him with 50-over cricket. There were times when he didn’t get the ball away straight off, but he understood how to get through that bit and catch up later on.”
Cracknell registered an average of 41.42 – second only to Martin Andersson, who struck his maiden century in Middlesex’s win against Nottinghamshire, and just ahead of Ryan Higgins, while there were also runs for fellow batters Mark Stoneman and Sam Robson.
Stoneman top-scored with 93 in the defeat to Essex, while Robson hit two half-centuries, valuable runs in terms of maintaining match sharpness before the duo resume their opening partnership in Championship cricket.
“With players away in the Hundred, you’re mixing your team but you want red-ball players involved in the 50-over tournament because otherwise they’re not doing anything for a month,” Johnson observed.
“There’s no second-team cricket and there’s only so many nets and throw-downs you can have to keep you in nick for a very important month of red-ball cricket coming up. Luckily with those two they’re good enough and experienced enough to cope.
“Ryan has been exceptional. He epitomises everything we try to do as a group, taking the game on and being confident in what you’re doing whether that’s batting, bowling, fielding or leadership.
“We knew he could do that, he was part of my second team many moons ago and I knew what he could offer. He went away to Gloucestershire, did a brilliant job there and came back as one of our leading players.”
Higgins’ consistency in all formats continued during the 50-over tournament – as well as contributing three half-centuries, he also picked up 11 wickets, one behind Ethan Bamber, who excelled in an unfamiliar role as Middlesex’s senior bowler.
Bamber’s economy rate during the tournament was a mere fraction above 4.5 an over and Johnson senses an increasing maturity in the young seamer, who will also have a key role to play in the Seaxes’ bid to retain top-flight Championship status.
“Ethan’s got massive ambitions to play for England and I think he strives sometimes to be something he’s not, to try and prove to everyone he’s an England bowler,” is the coach’s assessment.
“We talk about Sam Cook at Essex as being Ethan’s role model in a way. He understands how to be a bowler that’s the absolute best he can be, that’s where I think Ethan needs to get to and he’s coming on very well.
“He understands his role as a bowler much better than he used to and he’s absolutely brilliant at it. He’s accurate, skilful and he’s put a little bit of pace on so he troubles batsmen that way as well.”
Ironically, Cook is among the bowlers Middlesex must find a way to handle during their Championship run-in, with next week’s trip to Chelmsford followed by games against Lancashire, Warwickshire and Nottinghamshire.
However, the team boosted their prospects of remaining in Division One with a victory over Warwickshire just before the switch to white-ball cricket and Johnson believes his squad are finally adjusting to the demands of the top flight.
“The gap between the divisions is the biggest it’s ever been, in my opinion,” he added. “Half the squad hadn’t ever been in Division One and the other half hadn’t been here for six years. I think the gap has surprised a few.
“We’ve started to cope with it better in the second half of the season and had a good win in our last game, so we are moving in the right direction and fighting hard for every point and understand better what’s required.
“We’re confident that, over the next four games, we can get enough points to stay up and it’s important we do. If we can stay in this division, with the recruitment we’re making and realisation of what’s required, we can make good steps next year.”