Tearful fans embracing in packed stands, a bundle of bodies on the outfield and a clutch of Middlesex legends drinking beer out of a boot in the changing rooms. September 23, 2016 was a day unlike any other in the County Championship.
A thrilling season got the climax it deserved as Toby Roland-Jones’ hat-trick, half an hour before the scheduled end of the season, landed Middlesex their first title in 23 years at the expense of Somerset and Yorkshire.
After four exhausting, rollercoaster days in which the pendulum swung south, north and west, the side that couldn’t be beaten emerged with the trophy.
“Looking back now it’s one of those moments that you’ll never forget,” Nick Gubbins told ecb.co.uk. “Toby seized the moment and the atmosphere at Lord’s was electric - similar to a T20. It was absolutely surreal and words can’t do it justice.
“After the game ended we gathered in the Pavilion with close family and friends, with all the legends of Middlesex - Gat (Mike Gatting), Embers (John Emburey), Gus (Angus Fraser) - they were all drinking beers out of boots! It was a surreal experience.
“In the Tavern afterwards I had Middlesex fans coming up to me almost with tears in their eyes - it was one big party.
“That made us realise just what a special club Middlesex is; we’re steeped in history, we do things the right way and our side last year is another part of the fabric of our history.”
Gubbins admits to feeling sympathy for Somerset, whose players and fans were huddled round a television in Taunton watching events unfold at Lord’s, but points to Middlesex’s unbeaten record as proof they were worthy champions.
The 23-year-old had a season to remember, scoring 1,409 runs. He was second only to Keaton Jennings in the Division One charts and featured in four less innings than the Durham opener.
In the Tavern afterwards I had Middlesex fans coming up to me almost with tears in their eyes - it was one big party
After securing a maiden Championship ton, against Somerset in May, Gubbins struck three more, including 201 not out when Lancashire visited in June. When Middlesex’s season-defining moment came, Gubbins stood up, scoring 125 and 93 against then-defending champions Yorkshire.
“For me it’s all about scoring runs when it matters,” he explained. “Near the end of the season I was really pleased with the way I contributed in tough situations and that final game was a tough situation.
“There were some nerves beforehand, a bit of luck went my way, but it was all about getting us up to a score we could compete with, then second innings staying in the game with, eventually, those loop-ups coming on day four.
“When we lifted that trophy, personal milestones went out the window and it was all about Middlesex.”
Gubbins’ prolific campaign led to an England Lions call-up and the chance to tour the sub-continent for the first time, and work with former England coach Andy Flower.
“It was an awesome experience,“ he said. “I learnt a hell of a lot from Andy Flower, who is an incredible coach, especially against spin.
“It was great to get into the set up and get into the England kit. It does open your eyes as to what international cricket and touring is like. It’s made me want more and I’ve returned a better player I hope. Test match cricket is the ultimate aim. That’s the dream for most players I think.”
For now, though, the focus is on Middlesex and ensuring their title defence gets off to a solid start.
Angus Fraser, Middlesex’s managing director of cricket, has spoken of the need for the squad to remain humble but hungry for more success.
Gubbins is on the same page: “The challenge for us is to back it up again - you don’t want to rest on your laurels, you want that feeling again.
“You almost set Yorkshire as your benchmark - they went two in two - so we’ve got to do what they did. Every team you come across is going to give it their absolute all against you. It is going to be hard to retain but I think we’ve got the squad to do it.
“We’ve got a couple of additions - Adam Voges is with us all season, which he wasn’t last year, and Tom Helm is fully fit. He’s a serious fast bowler and has really impressed for the Lions, so in essence we’ve almost got two new additions to a Championship winning side already.
“We’re on the rise - we’ve got a young-ish squad with a few experienced heads. There’s plenty more to come from us. That’s what makes this period coming up such an exciting time for Middlesex.”