North Middlesex captain hopes Joel Hughes can become a consistent all-rounder
Captain Tom Nicoll hopes Joel Hughes can become a consistent all-rounder for North Middlesex after his starring role in Saturday’s emphatic victory over Southgate, which ended a three-match losing streak in the Premier Division of the Middlesex County League.
Primarily known for his prowess as a bowler, Hughes was pushed up the order and opened the batting alongside Adam Holmes in Crouch End at the weekend.
The move paid off as he contributed 30 to a partnership of 61 – North Midd’s best first-wicket stand of the season to date.
And, although the Crouch End club ultimately only managed to post 204-9 from their allotted 50 overs, Hughes removed Southgate’s first four batsmen cheaply and finished with devastating figures of 5-16 as the visitors were skittled for 55 in 21 overs.
Nicoll, who took 2-5 himself from 3.1 overs, was quick to praise the paceman’s latest performance with the ball – but he is also excited to see Hughes contributing runs.
“Even in games we’ve lost, Joel’s been the stand-out player, and on Saturday he was class,” said the skipper.
“He just doesn’t give anything away, nothing’s free. He’s so consistent and he makes batsmen do funny things – that’s how he gets his wickets.
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“Will he continue to open the batting? Yes, possibly. We haven’t really been doing too well in the top two. We’ve got a lot of middle-order batters but the top two, we’ve mixed it up a bit and they did well. Looking over the course of the day, that opening partnership was very important.
“At Joel’s old club in Yorkshire he used to bat at No4 I think, so he was a proper all-rounder, and then I don’t know what happened but he’s lost a lot of confidence.
“I’m just trying to get that back into him because he’s got good technique. He opened the batting against North London in the Twenty20 Cup a few days before and got 60-odd not out – and then on Sunday he got 40-odd in the Middlesex Cup against Brondesbury.
“He’s a class opener and if he can keep working on that it would be great. We’re just trying to rekindle that batting element of his game.”
Things could have ended very differently on Saturday because, after Hughes, Holmes (18), Mitch Murray (22) and Evan Flowers (26) had helped North Midd to reach 121-3, they suffered a middle-order collapse, losing five wickets for just 20 runs.
But Will Nicoll came in at No9 and plundered an unbeaten 34 off 30 balls, while Jaron Semper hit 16 not out off 12 deliveries to take the Park Road side over 200.
“It was a funny game really because we probably should have got 150, and if they did get those final two wickets and wrap us up for 150 they would have been well on top,” said Tom Nicoll.
“But then Will just smashed it around at the end and completely turned the game in that 20 or 30 minutes, and going into tea their heads were down.
“It’s the worst thing in the world in cricket when the tail wags and your opponents get an extra 50 – I think there were 25 runs scored in the last over.
“It completely flipped the game and all our tails were up. Then the bowlers charged in, the fielders were up for it and it was a completely different game.
“The batting definitely needs a lot of work, though. It was a tough wicket and to be fair to Southgate they bowled well – but we lost a lot of wickets in clumps, with some silly shots too.
“Luckily we had enough depth and eventually our No9 got all the runs, so we got there in the end, but we made a bit of a meal of it.”
Saturday’s victory was an important fillip after a run of three successive defeats, and the skipper is now looking forward with optimism as his side prepare to visit Stanmore this weekend.
“It’s funny because I’d say we’ve had a relatively disappointing start but, looking at the table, we’re in fifth place and we’re only 18 points off the top,” said Tom Nicoll.
“It’s a long old summer and we could easily make it back, especially if a few batters hit form and these bowlers keep carrying on what they’re doing.”