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Stephen Eskinazi and Middlesex take road less travelled in quest to find Vitality Blast success

It is fitting that Eskinazi, a player who has endured and overcome his fair chare of challenges, should be their captain as they look to hit their own white-ball reset.

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Stephen Eskinazi and Middlesex take road less travelled in quest to find Vitality Blast success

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By Dafydd Jones, ECB Reporters Network

Middlesex Vitality Blast captain Stephen Eskinazi has a clear vision for a club that has found success in the T20 format elusive.

Middlesex have been the perennial under-achievers in the format reaching the knockout stages just twice since their solitary Finals Day success back in 2008.

Indeed, the club has not won a knockout T20 match since they snuck past a Kent side captained by new Managing Director of England Men’s Cricket Rob Key in that final.

“I think we’ve won 30% of games in the history of T20 cricket, we’re the second worst performing county in T20 in the history of the game,” said Eskinazi, who has seen his side fall down the table this term after winning their opening three games.

“We know that we have a lot of building to do to be competitive again.”

It is fitting then that Eskinazi, a player who has endured and overcome his fair chare of challenges, should be their captain as they look to hit their own white-ball reset.

The 28-year-old, who was born in South Africa but who grew up in Western Australia, was just an innings away from his Middlesex career ending seven years ago.

“There’s been a lot of ups and downs during my nine years here. In 2015, before my first-class debut, I was told my Middlesex that I wasn’t going to be offered a contract,” he said.

“I was told that I had one more game, which was a second team final. I managed to play well in that game and went on to make my first-class debut the next day.

“There’s been other occasions where I’ve been left out of the side having done well, so it’s not all been plain sailing and I’m sure most cricketers have those kind of stories.

“You definitely benefit from those times, more so in hindsight than at the time, but you look back and see that you’ve bounced back and gained a bit of resilience and stoicism that you need to be consistently successful.”

It was not even the first time his cricket future had been cast into doubt, having suffered rejection in Western Australia after he appeared destined for great things when selected to a star-studded Australia Under-19s squad.

“There were some big names in that U19s team like Ashton Agar, Ben McDermott, Billy Stanlake and Marnus Labuschagne, so there were some pretty big players in my year group,” he said.

“I came back to Perth that summer and Western Australia said there was no room to contract me. As a kid, it was pretty devastating because it was all I wanted to do.

“I felt I was doing well enough to get an opportunity there, but that door shut pretty quickly.

“It’s very different in Australia than it is here, because if you’re in Nottinghamshire’s academy for example and they don’t want you, you can go to Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Warwickshire or Worcestershire within about an hour’s drive.

“In Perth, you’re miles away from anywhere, so your opportunities are either to get on a plane or do something else. At that age, I was devastated because it’s really patriotic in Australia, especially in Western Australia, so you grow up idolising these guys, playing and training alongside these players and you never really think about anything else.

“As a cricketer in that area, your only avenue is to play for Western Australia, that’s everyone’s dream, so when that door was shut pretty quickly, particularly after I felt that I deserved an opportunity, I was hugely disappointed.”

Eskinazi made the decision to leave his family and friends behind and make the switch to the UK to join Middlesex at the age of just 19.

“The boys were really welcoming, but the main challenges were social and from a family perspective off the field, it was just so different, it took a lot of getting used to,” he said.

“My whole support network was in Perth, all my friends and family. Normally, in the inevitable ups and downs of a season, you lean on those sort of people and when I didn’t have that initially, I found it massively challenging. Looking back, the club were fantastic, but it took me a bit of time to come out of my shell.”

Eskinazi is now looking to repay the faith the club put in that young man.

While he admits he didn’t quite feel ready to lead the club when handed the reins during the pandemic, a strong run of form since has meant he feels empowered to enjoy the “honour” of leading a county he now regards as family.

“It’s always an honour to captain Middlesex, especially being a one-club player,” he said.

“The people here are like my family and I love the tradition of the club, but I think I’m far better equipped to do that now at 28 than I was at 25 battling to get my place back in the team.

“It’s been easier for me this year because my role in the side in T20 cricket is very established. I’m really comfortable with the way I’m playing and the way I’ve played over the last couple of years, so I know there’s no question marks over that and that I have the respect of my team-mates.

“It allows me from a captain’s perspective to have more clarity and making sure that I put the team first. You see in most sports that if the captain isn’t performing well, it can become quite an awkward situation.

“I know that my performances have to be exemplary and showing the younger players how I want the team to play. We have such good relationships off the field that it’s quite easy to captain them on the field. There’s been some highs and lows already, but I’ve really enjoyed it.”

Middlesex face a must-win trip to London derby rivals Surrey on Friday night as they look to re-ignite their campaign when the Vitality Blast resumes in front of the Sky Sports cameras.

Eskinazi’s side are three points from those elusive qualification places and, while that is the short-term ambition, he is taking a more considered approach to the wider picture.

“We have a spine and a structure in place to do that, but we have to be realistic with our expectations,” he said.

“Consistently, we’re going to have to keep learning as a group and form a core that is going to be able to challenge over the next two or three years.

“It would be amazing (to lead the club to T20 success). The reason I took the role was that I felt there was an opportunity for this group to grow.

“The average age of our squad is 24, so we know that if we can develop as a group in the next two to three years, then we’re going to be a side that is respected and highly skilful too.

“It would mean everything to me to be able to take this group forward to be able to perform at that level. I’m really excited by the opportunity for sure.”

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