Robbie White interview: From that nightmare start to hunting a maiden century for Middlesex

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Will Macpherson
·4-min read
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Robbie White on the drive against Surrey (Getty Images)
Robbie White on the drive against Surrey (Getty Images)

More than three years on, Robbie White is able to laugh about his County Championship debut. It was the sort that requires a sense of humour.

It is April 13, 2018, the first day of the new season. Relegated Middlesex start against Northamptonshire at Lord’s. Their No3 batsman, Stevie Eskinazi, has been under the weather and White, 22, is his understudy in the squad. He has played first-class cricket for Loughborough MCCU, but the County Championship is a different kettle of fish.

At the crack of dawn, White gets a call to say he’s playing. “I think Steve had seen the colour of the wicket and took a turn for the worse,” he laughs. These were the days when the away team had the right to insert, so Middlesex knew that on a dank April day, they would be batting first.

Opener Max Holden was dismissed early, bringing White to the crease. He went to leave his first ball, only for his off stump to be sent cartwheeling by Ben Sanderson. If there is always a basic indignity to that mode of dismissal, White’s was compounded by the sponsor hoardings that provided the backdrop to the snaps of the moment: Specsavers. It was the image of the opening day of the season; you don’t need to be told the punchline.

“The memory of walking out, then walking back quite quickly is vivid,” he tells Standard Sport. “Before long, my phone was going crazy with the picture circulating. They say any publicity’s good publicity but I’d argue that was better for Specsavers than myself.

“You have to laugh at these moments, remember that they are not going to define a career. Most batters have been there at some point, just not on Championship debut, or the first day of the season. I was a bit doom and gloom at the time, but I can smile about it now.”

Heading to Taunton for tomorrow’s game against Somerset, White can be as confident of a place in Middlesex’s side as he has ever been. He has, in his own words, been “in and out of the side” – but more out than in: “I’ve out of the side for longer than I wanted to be”. He spent time on loan at Essex, and has rarely been afforded a run in Middlesex’s team.

It has been another stuttering start to the season for Middlesex, but White has begun to stand up, following his good work in last year’s Bob Willis Trophy when another last-minute call-up - Nick Gubbins was ruled out due to contact tracing - led to a career-best 99 against Kent. He acknowledges that Middlesex’s batting “hasn’t been up to standard for a couple of years”.

In the win over Surrey last week, White scored a vital 72 - coming in with Middlesex in strife at 16 for three - in a match-defining partnership with Sam Robson and a classy 73 - coming in at 33 for three trying to save the game- in another hefty stand with Gubbins, in the heavy defeat to Hampshire.

The Hampshire innings saved him his spot ahead of Stevie Eskinazi when new captain Peter Handscomb arrived. He describes the situation as “last-chance saloon”, which is identical to the circumstances around his 99. “It was a whirlwind,” he says. “My contract was up. Cricket’s a funny game and even your good days can end in heartbreak”. That contract duly arrived.

Getty Images
Getty Images

White, who grew up in Ealing, is one of a raft of young, local players emerging in the Middlesex side, alongside Ethan Bamber and Luke Hollman. Blake Cullen is expected to break through soon, while Max Harris signed professional terms this week. He believes their shared journey makes playing together more special.

White says the manner in which Middlesex competed against Somerset in the season opener. “We let the Somerset game slip from a position we should have dominated through to the end,” he says. “It’s a tough place to go and win but we have the belief that we can go one step further and turn them over.”

White, who is also a back-up wicketkeeper for Middlesex, arrives full of confidence – and on the hunt for that maiden century.

“It’s nice going into games feeling you have performances behind you, feeling like you will play and knowing your role,” he says. “I haven’t had that before. I have the confidence that I can do it at this level. But I’ve still only got a couple of scores, and need to work hard.

“I hope getting out for 99 will make it sweeter if it does come.”

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