Middlesex batting prospect targets a place in County Championship side

Middlesex batsman Stephen Eskinazi. Pic: Gavin Ellis/TGS Photo

Middlesex batsman Stephen Eskinazi. Pic: Gavin Ellis/TGS Photo - Credit: Archant

Stephen Eskinazi’s route to Lord’s has certainly been a roundabout one – but now the South African-born Australian-raised Englishman is right where he wants to be.

Born in Johannesburg, Eskinazi spent his childhood in Hampshire before moving to Perth, Western Australia, with his family at the age of 10 – and finally returning to the UK for a shot at county cricket with Middlesex.

The 22-year-old batsman-wicketkeeper amassed runs for the county’s second XI before making his senior debut at the end of last season, when he featured in their thrilling victory over champions Yorkshire.

Having gained a taste of first-team cricket, Eskinazi is eager for more – and he hopes the strength of Middlesex’s County Championship batting line-up could actually work in his favour.

Skipper Adam Voges is likely to be away on international duty with Australia later in the summer, while Sam Robson and Nick Compton will both be hopeful of England Test call-ups in the near future.

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“It was one of those surreal experiences, to make your debut against the champions at Lord’s,” said Eskinazi, who hit a century in a second XI friendly against the Club Cricket Conference this week. “It was something I’d been striving for in the last three to four years I’d been at the club.

“To finally get an opportunity and feel I’d earned it, and to contribute in a small way to one of the best wins of the season for the club, was unreal. I couldn’t have asked for much more to be honest.

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“If you look at our batting line-up, I’d say it’s probably the best in the country. You’ve got international cricketers who are consistently performing, so as a young player you have to really earn your opportunity.

“You don’t get handed anything easily – you have to consistently perform in the second team and learn that, when you get in, you have a very small time to try and make your mark.

“It was a small snippet of what I feel I can bring and I’d love to build on it. Opportunities are going to be slimmer at Middlesex than they might be at a Division Two club, but I think that’s a good thing in the long run.

“Maybe at smaller clubs people get given games when they’re not quite ready and that can be detrimental to their game.

“The silver lining in a strong side is that, if one or two players get picked for their countries, they need to fill those gaps. I have to make sure that I’m at the forefront of their minds and if there is an opportunity, I’m the first one to be thrown in.

“Come the end of May, other guys could be away for two or three months and if I’m in form and I’m scoring runs, I might have the opportunity to try and settle myself in the side.”

While many younger players have broken into Middlesex’s first team via limited-overs cricket, Eskinazi has focused on building his reputation as a specialist four-day batsman.

Since Adam Rossington’s departure to Northamptonshire in 2014, he has also acted as understudy to first-choice wicketkeeper John Simpson – yet that role is not one he envisaged as a youngster growing up in Perth.

“Initially I was a seam bowler and I had stress fractures in my back, quite bad ones,” recalled Eskinazi, who represented Western Australia at Under-15 to Under-19 level.

“At that point, being predominantly a batsman, I wondered whether it was something I could do in the long run. Would it be worth potentially getting injured and not being able to play cricket full stop?

“I realised bowling probably wasn’t for me, but I was a natural catcher and I began to play for Western Australia Under-15s and Under-17s as a wicketkeeper.

“It is a skill I take seriously – it’s taken a bit of getting used to on the wickets over here where there’s a bit of wobble and swing, but I feel I’m improving all the time and I want to take it to the next level.

“We have an incumbent wicket-keeper who has performed consistently but that’s not stopping me trying to put pressure on him. There’s always a spot there if you can keep and bat better.

“First and foremost I’m a top-order batsman. I don’t want to bat seven or eight, I want to bat in the top four and challenge for those spots, but I do enjoy my keeping.

“I’ve been lucky to spend a bit of time working with [former England wicketkeeper] Jack Russell over the last few years and I’m comfortable that I could do a good job behind the stumps as well as with the bat.”

Middlesex are hoping Voges will be passed fit to return for their County Championship fixture against Nottinghamshire at Lord’s, which gets under way on Sunday.

The skipper was forced to sit out the majority of his side’s drawn match against Hampshire after he was struck on the head by a throw from the boundary during the opening day’s play at Southampton.

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