First-class honours sees Max Holden head Down Under in high spirits
Breakthrough year for Middlesex ace
The eyes of the cricketing world will be fixed on Australia this winter.
It is two years since Alastair Cook captained England to something of a surprise win on home turf in the Ashes, and the anticipation has been growing as they attempt to defend their status Down Under.
Cambridgeshire saw one of their own narrowly miss out on the squad, with former Balsham schoolboy Tom Westley instead named in the England Lions party for the antipodean summer.
But he will not be the only player from the county in Australia with the ECB this summer.
Max Holden will spend the British off-season in Western Australia, looking to build on a breakthrough campaign.
The former Cambridge Granta batsman has made an impression in the Specsavers County Championship, playing on loan in Division Two with Northamptonshire.
His biggest score was 153 against Kent, who included Pakistan bowler Yasir Shah in their ranks, and he played in a warm-up game against South Africa ahead of the summer series.
Then, in September, he was recalled by parent club Middlesex to make his first-team debut, being top-scorer in the first innings of a rain-affected match against Hampshire.
“The first half of the season I was at Northants which was fun, and then back at Middlesex for the rest of the year,” said the 19-year-old.
“It was good to experience first-class cricket really. I played the championship games and a few one-day games, and they were a really good set of lads.
“It was good to experience that level of cricket and I got a lot out of it. It was a step up and you had to be right on your game but I’ve played quite a few years of second-team cricket.
“I played a bit for the under-19s as well so I felt I was ready for that step up and it ended up going quite well.
“I was pleasantly surprised to be called back by Middlesex, but that’s what I was aiming for. I’m contracted to Middlesex and that’s the team I want to play for, so I thought if I did well at Northants then I might have more of a chance.
“It was one of my goals in going there, so I was pleased when they called me back so hopefully it shows they were quite pleased with how it went at Northants.”
Holden signed a four-year contract with Middlesex last year, before he had finished his A-levels, and has already represented England at age group level.
He played for the under-17s and then captained the under-19s at the Under-19 Cricket World Cup, and he is pleased with the progress he has made this season.
“I want to be playing as much first-team cricket as I can really,” said the left-handed batsman, who can also bowl right-arm off-break.
“I just need to work hard to try to cement my place in the Middlesex team, that’s the next main goal for me. But I’m pretty happy with where my game is at and I feel like I’m improving.
“Of course, you’re going to work hard on your game and fitness, and all-round package, but there is no substitute for scoring runs out in the middle.”
And hopefully that will continue in the months ahead, with Holden having earned an ECB scholarship to go to Australia.
The scholarship funds the flights, accommodation, a coach to work with and arranges a club to play for while in Perth, with Holden heading to Wannaroo.
“It’s to experience different conditions, practice on those pitches,” said Holden. “I’ve been to Australia with the under-19s but I haven’t been out there for a long period of time; for a whole winter.
“This will be a first time. I haven’t really had time to go away because of the under-19 commitments during the winter.
“I want to develop batting on those wickets, I think they will be very quick and bouncy so it will hopefully improve my work against the short ball.
“It’s just about all areas of my game, hopefully I will improve my bowling and just make sure I’m technically in a good place for next summer really.
“I think it helps just playing cricket year round and getting into the habit of scoring runs.”
The next stepping stone in the national system for Holden is the England Lions, but with the senior squad in Australia, there is a chance that the Cambridge youngster could get an insight into the tour.
“It will be nice to go and watch and be out there for the Ashes in Perth,” said Holden. “I know that they sometimes set you up to do a bit of training with them, which would be nice.
“Maybe some bowling at the players before the Perth Test match. But we will have to wait and see.
“They just try to get guys in and around the team and see what they advance like.”
And it must be with great pride that Cambridge Granta see the development of Holden.
He is the leading light off the current production line, but Ben Claydon and Michael Pepper are hinting they can be next to make their way in the first-class game.
“They have got a few good young lads and hopefully they will get picked up by first-class counties in the next few years,” said Holden.
“And hopefully they will be a few more guys coming through.”