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Interviews

Nick Gubbins back on track after underlining credentials with twin tons

The move to Hampshire has revitalised Gubbins' career after he rode the highs and lows at Middlesex

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
02-May-2022
Nick Gubbins roars after bringing up his hundred  •  PA Images/Getty

Nick Gubbins roars after bringing up his hundred  •  PA Images/Getty

During England's Test series against India last summer, Rob Key wrote a scathing column for the Evening Standard about the standard of the County Championship. "For too long, Championship cricket has rewarded the trundler, and the wrong type of cricket… it does not resemble Test cricket in the slightest," he wrote.
"There is collateral. For every Tim Murtagh there are five Nick Gubbins, and for every Darren Stevens there are five Daniel Bell-Drummonds. These are young guys, full of promise, fighting back tears as they trudge back to the dressing room with a sore shin, wondering if a career as a first-class batter is actually feasible."
For Gubbins, this amounted to being damned with faint praise. Key, then a pundit rather than the ECB's managing director of men's cricket, had marked him out as a batter of high potential, but one who has struggled to live up to his potential due to pitches that suited medium-pacers rather than fast bowlers and spinners.
It was hard to argue with his point. As a 22-year-old, Gubbins narrowly missed out on an England call-up after he piled on 1409 runs at 61.26 in Middlesex's title-winning 2016 season, as they drew 10 of their 16 games and played on flat pitches; across the next five years, he averaged 29.50 in first-class cricket and looked further than ever from international selection as Middlesex lingered in Division Two.
"I did read that," Gubbins tells ESPNcricinfo. "Murts said something like: 'I wouldn't want to live in a world where there are five Nick Gubbins.' Well, one Tim Murtagh is enough for me - but he's a good mate of mine and a legend in his own right.
"He [Key] was obviously making the point that it's been quite tricky to bat in the Championship over the last few years, and now he's in the position to control and change things. So far, it looks like pitches across the country have been pretty good throughout what was a pretty good April, weather-wise. It's a really exciting time for the county game."
It is an exciting time for Gubbins, too. Last week, he hit twin hundreds for the first time in his career, making 101 not out and 130 in Hampshire's rain-ruined draw against Lancashire. Batting at No. 3 he twice dug them out of a hole, from 40 for 5 to 246 all out in the first innings and 12 for 2 to 344 all out in the second, all against an attack containing James Anderson, Hasan Ali and Tom Bailey.
"Yeah, it was really nice because it happened when the team needed it," he says. "We just needed to get some partnerships going, which is something we speak a lot about as a team. Luckily, Felix Organ came out and played really nicely and then on day three, it was Ben Brown who played beautifully.
"They have a high-class attack with quality bowlers so it's really nice to test yourself against the best. Jimmy will go down as the greatest-ever seam bowler. He's relentless and moves the ball both ways, and then they had different challenges too with Hasan and Tom Bailey. It was a challenging week, but a very satisfying one as well."
Rain intervened on the final day to deny Hampshire the opportunity to push for a victory which would have taken them top of Division One. "We felt like we'd got ourselves into a position where we could win the game and definitely take 10 wickets on that last day and put Lancashire under some pressure," Gubbins says. "It was really pleasing up until that point but yesterday was very frustrating." They are second in the table regardless, and Gubbins is the fifth-highest run-scorer in the division.
The opportunity to play his home games at the Ageas Bowl rather than Lord's - where pitches have been green and games low-scoring ever since Middlesex's title-winning season in 2016 - was a significant factor in Gubbins' decision to join Hampshire midway through last year.
"Lord's has been notoriously tough over the last few years for whatever reason," he explains. "It came to a point where I was trying to think about the future of my cricket and the Ageas Bowl and the atmosphere at Hampshire was a massive draw. The decision to leave Middlesex was the hardest decision of my life but Hampshire seemed like the right place to go and it was just the right time to make a move, I think.
"I'm fortunate to be massively supported by my fiancée Charlotte. She was incredibly supportive and helped me make that decision." They have moved to East Meon, a village near Petersfield, and are renovating an old cottage. "Charlotte runs her own design company. She tells me where to put the nails and I'm a bit of a labourer."
Gubbins spent some of the winter away in Zimbabwe where he played two first-class games for Matabeleland Tuskers through his connections with Dave Houghton, his former Middlesex batting coach. He has also continued to work remotely with Neil D'Costa, the coach who is best known as Marnus Labuschagne's mentor.
Capped 27 times by England Lions across formats, Gubbins retains ambitions of playing Test cricket but is keen to underline that his immediate focus is on Hampshire - and in particular on helping them win a first Championship since 1973. "I'm one of 300 cricketers in the country who I would imagine all harbour those ambitions and hopes and dreams," he says. "I'm certainly not going to get ahead of myself now just because of one game.
"Cricket is a great leveller in both directions: there have been some good times, there have been some bad times. It's just about learning to deal with those, not get too high or too low, and enjoy life down here. I'm getting married at the end of the year so whatever happens, it's going to be an amazing year in my life. I'm really happy to be down here and for us to be starting our lives in a beautiful part of the world.
"Obviously Hampshire have challenged for white-ball trophies throughout the last two decades and we'll be looking do that again, but we're in a really strong position to compete for the Championship again. You look around the changing room and there's high quality everywhere; you only have to look as far as James Vince, who is probably one of the best batsmen in the country.
"You look at our seamers - Mo Abbas, Kyle Abbott and Keith Barker - and I don't think there's an attack in the country that rivals ours, and when it gets drier, Daws [Liam Dawson], Mason Crane and Felix Organ will come into it more and more. We've got a lot of bases covered. A Championship push is definitely on everyone's mind."

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98