Middlesex 307 for 4 (Eskinazi 118, de Caires 80) vs Derbyshire
He fell twenty runs short, poking injudiciously outside his off stump and edging Sam Conners behind, but his innings set up a dominant opening day of the season for a young Middlesex side who are optimistic about their prospects for this summer after five disappointing years since their Championship win in 2016.
de Caires, a second-year business economics student at the University of Leeds, made 28 runs in his four Championship innings last summer and was not expecting to start the season in the first XI. But Sam Robson’s thumb injury gave him a chance to open the batting alongside Mark Stoneman and he looked at home, playing the ball late and punishing Derbyshire’s depleted attack when they dropped short after surviving an early chance at backward point.
“I think some of the boys said when he was hitting back-foot punches today, he did look a little bit like his old man there. He really loves batting, and batting for really long periods of time,” he added. Mickey Arthur, Derbyshire’s new head of cricket, saw similarities between father and son in de Caires’ innings. “I thought there was – and it was epitomised with that Gray-Nicolls bat as well,” he grinned.
de Caires insisted last year that he had “no clue” why he had taken his mother’s maiden name. Some suggest it was to avoid the glare of being his father’s son but there is cricketing heritage on his mother’s side of the family, too: his great-grandfather Frank played three Tests for West Indies in 1930. Joshua is technically qualified to play for them through his mother, but has stated his intentions to play for England.
Of course, he will have to bide his time to realise that ambition. He may well fall out of the Middlesex side when Robson is fit again – not least with captain Peter Handscomb due to arrive in time for their trip to Glamorgan on April 21 – but it can never hurt to make first-class runs, not least when England’s stock of reliable openers is so thin.
For all the interest in de Caires, it was Eskinazi who played the leading role on the first day, becoming the first Championship centurion of 2022. His hundred from No. 3 put Middlesex in the ascendency after Derbyshire’s new overseas signings had combined to make an early breakthrough, Suranga Lakmal having Stoneman caught well by Shan Masood at short midwicket.
Eskinazi was a fresh-faced 22-year-old when Middlesex won the title in 2016, making two Championship hundreds when he came into the side in mid-season, but has struggled in the years since. He averaged just 22.37 in first-class county games across the last three summers coming into this season, with his red-ball returns deteriorating as quickly as his T20 form improved.
But after the disappointment of going unsold in this week’s Hundred draft – despite excellent recent Blast form – he looked at ease throughout his innings, driving confidently through the covers and reaching his hundred with a squeezed single through point.
“The main difference in my game today compared to last year was that I was a lot more comfortable going out and playing my natural game, driving, getting right forward, cutting when it was there,” he said. “There have been times over the last couple of years when I haven’t enjoyed my cricket as much as I’d have liked and careers are short. I don’t want to get to the end of mine wishing that I’d had a bit more fun.”
This was a tough start for Derbyshire in their first game under Arthur, whose arrival over the winter represented a major coup given his wide experience as an international coach. They had brought in Ryan Sidebottom on a month’s loan from Warwickshire earlier this week after last season’s leading wicket-taker Ben Aitchison suffering an ominous-sounding “spinal bone injury”, but he hobbled off with a muscle strain seven balls into his spell.
That left them a bowler short, with Luis Reece playing as a specialist batter following knee and shoulder surgery over the winter. Billy Godleman would not have hoped to throw the ball to his offspinner, Alex Thomson, within the first hour when he won the toss and opted to bowl, though he held up an end and had Max Holden caught reverse-sweeping straight to point in the final half-four. On an unusually flat Lord’s pitch, the pressure is on Derbyshire’s batters to provide a strong response.
Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98