James Middlebrook has emerged as one of the unheralded stars of Northamptonshire’s early-season surge to the top of the LV= County Championship second division.
An innings victory against Gloucestershire was Northants’ third win of the season in the competition and 34-year-old Middlebrook’s all-round contributions have certainly caught the eye.
Middlebrook, the former Yorkshire and Essex player, has not only shone in his prime role as senior spinner but has also provided a sting in the Northants batting tail. Two centuries and a fifty already gives him a current aggregate of 334 runs from five innings at an average of 83.50.
“I’ve had an excellent start to the season and we’ve got a very strong batting line-up so to come in at number eight or nine and get a hundred is extremely satisfying and most enjoyable personally,” said Middlebrook.
“Standards down the order are a lot higher than they used to be and the lower end can all handle a bat nowadays.”
The Leeds-born player admits that promotion is a realistic target. “We’ve got a pretty strong squad, the team are doing well and there’s a very good vibe in our dressing room at the moment,” he added. “We’d like to think that we could be in with a chance of promotion.
“We believe in ourselves but we aren’t really looking at the bigger picture at this stage of the season but just concentrating on each game, giving our all in that game and hoping for a win.
“At the minute we are doing well in the Championship with three wins and two draws so it’s a pretty good start for us.”
Northants overseas player Chaminda Vaas attracts huge praise from Middlebrook although the county showed they were far from a one-man team by thrashing Gloucestershire without the 37-year-old Sri Lankan who was taking a well-earned rest.
“He is a terrific bloke and an absolute world-class cricketer, yet he’s so humble,” said Middlebrook. “To achieve what he has in the international game and come to Northampton and be so determined to play his part in trying to bring success to the county is magnificent.
“He wants to take wickets, he wants to score runs and wants to win games and to have that philosophy after all he’s achieved in Test and one-day international cricket just underlines what a brilliant bloke he is. And, of course, all that is great for our team and the players. He’s so professional.”
Middlebrook made his first-class debut for his native Yorkshire back in 1998 before joining Essex in 2002 but was surprisingly released by them at the end of the 2009 season. The move to Wantage Road, however, has proved beneficial to both player and county.
“I was disappointed to leave Essex but the powers that be there decided it was time for me to go,” he added. “Northants made me a firm offer which I was happy to accept and things seem to have worked out very well.”
The player admits, too, that a few years ago he believed he was a worthy contender for a place in the England one-day side although it was a phone call that the selectors failed to make.
“My bowling figures have been pretty economical over the years, my batting and fielding has gone from strength to strength, especially this year, and I would have love the opportunity to play for England but the selectors always seemed to look elsewhere,” he said.
“I was disappointed for a while but you just have to get on with things. Nothing surprises me in cricket any more and, who knows, if I keep doing what I’m doing then a chance might still come my way.
“My target is to help Northants get into Division One. We’ve got the side for it, we are playing good cricket at the minute and everyone is enjoying the success we are achieving. My own fitness levels are good and I’m really enjoying my time with Northants, so long may it continue!”