22-year old Middlesex opening batter Max Holden has already achieved a great deal in his career: a half-century for England at the 2016 Under-19 World Cup aged 18; becoming a Middlesex regular aged 20; the highest List A score in his county’s history.
However, despite these highs, Holden has faced real lows, with that record-breaking 166 against Kent a rare bright spot in a 2019 in which he struggled badly for runs. He was thus dropped from the Middlesex side for a large portion of the season.
“It was a very tough time. The winter prior to that I went away with the England Lions and was really positive about my game, but [the 2019 season] didn’t go to plan at all. I was very down and frustrated about how it went in red-ball cricket particularly.
“I tried to work as hard as I could in the nets to get that form back, but it didn’t click all year. Form can be a bad spiral. You have a couple of bad games and worry about your place; it is only natural, and you end up playing worse because of that added pressure.”
Despite being selected just twice in 17 matches in July and August 2019, Holden stayed positive, citing the support of his teammates.
“If you look at all the best players in the world, they have had these times. Therefore, it was great to speak to the older players at Middlesex who had been through it before and they told me about coming out the other side was the more important part of it. We are a massively united team.”
Holden, who toured annually from the ages of 16 to 19 with the England age-group teams, believes the challenges he faced while playing at that level put him in good stead for his struggles in 2019.
“The tours in general were massively important. I remember at the World Cup I got quite a bit of stick from the commentators in a few of the games and it upset me quite a bit at the time. Perhaps more than it should as looking back, the only opinions that matter are those of your teammates, coaches and yourself.
“I am definitely better now. When you are younger you take things to heart and take it to personally. Learning to play under that pressure has helped me when playing first team cricket for Middlesex for sure.”
Return To Form
Fast forward to the curtailed 2020 season, and Holden bounced back from the frustrations of 2019. He struck his maiden T20 century, a whirlwind innings off just 60 balls against Essex, and played in all five of Middlesex’s Bob Willis Trophy [the COVID-adapted tournament that replaced the usual County Championship] games, averaging a respectable 30 runs per dismissal. Holden believes the experiences of 2019, hard work and a change in mentality were the reasons for this turnaround.
“Looking back, 2019 can be seen as a positive because I had those times where I wasn’t as successful as I would’ve liked to be, but it has driven me to get better. Last winter [2019/2020] I sat down with the coaches and had honest conversations about where and how I was going to improve, and I used that to motivate me to train even harder in the winter and made technical improvements to my game.
“Even more so than the hard work though I think it’s a mental mindset shift for me, I have always been very focused and determined with my cricket but this last year I have realised it’s almost more important to be relaxed and composed on the game day and away from cricket.
Taking a step back and getting away from the game and refreshing the mind and being relaxed when coming to cricket is something I did more so this summer. I was just thankful to be back out playing after lockdown which made me enjoy it a lot more.”
Due to Covid-19, rather than go and play in the Southern Hemisphere as he typically might, Holden will stay in England and work with the coaches at Middlesex on the technical aspects of his game and his fitness. And with his confidence restored and his focus renewed, Holden can expect to push on from the strong foundations built in 2020 into the 2021 season.