Just when you thought the English cricket season had finished, another drama is looming on the horizon as Middlesex have appealed the decision by the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) to deduct them two points.
The ECB have enough on their hands with the recent Ben Stokes incident, but now their problems have been doubled by Middlesex who have complained about the points they were deducted which has effectively resulted in their relegation to Division 2 for the 2018 season.
The punishment came as a result of a slow over-rate during their Division One match at Surrey back in August, which was then abandoned in bizarre circumstances on the final afternoon of play when a crossbow bolt was fired into the pitch at The Oval.
Middlesex were relegated from the top tier by one point after losing their final match of the season against Somerset at Taunton, ironically the team placed above them in the final table. Their argument is that the crossbow incident at The Oval meant they were denied the chance to improve their over-rate in the remainder of the final session.
Play suspended at the Oval on advice of security. Players have left the field after a crossbow bolt landed on the square….. pic.twitter.com/V5fJADvuKK
— Middlesex Cricket (@Middlesex_CCC) 31 August 2017
The points deduction was confirmed on 9th September with Middlesex chief executive Richard Goatley saying at the time there was “no scope” for an appeal, despite the fact he was “extremely disappointed” by the decision.
— Middlesex Cricket (@Middlesex_CCC) 9 September 2017
However they have now gone back on that and the appeal has been referred to the chairman of the ECB’s discipline commission, Tim O’Gorman, who is considering his response with a decision potentially being made as early as next week.
A year on from a dramatic last day at Lords which saw them seal the title, Middlesex are the first defending county champions to be relegated since Lancashire went down in 2012.
And it has been coming. Three wins and four draws from their 14 games was hardly the form of champions and the emphatic 231-run loss at Taunton was perhaps the icing on the cake of what has been a thoroughly dismal campaign.
— Somerset Cricket 🏏 (@SomersetCCC) 28 September 2017
That huge win – both in terms of the margin of victory and in the context of what was at stake – confirmed Somerset’s survival, which you could argue they deserved with three wins in their last four games. Hampshire’s proverbial backs-to-the-wall draw against Warwickshire at Edgbaston was the final nail in Middlesex’s coffin.
So for Middlesex to now come out and argue they did not have chance to redeem themselves following the crossbow incident sounds nothing short of sour grapes.
The points deduction and subsequent relegation are both all of their own making, both in the game against Surrey where they only have themselves to blame for the slow over rate (which frankly is inexcusable), and more so their performances over the course of the whole season. They should accept facts that they have simply not been good enough and deserve to be relegated.
Curiously, a similar points deduction for a slow over rate in a Division Two match has also had a far-reaching effect. Northamptonshire were docked two points for a slow over rate in their crucial Championship game away against Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge back in August. The home side won that game comfortably, but as fate would transpire, in another tense end to the season Northamptonshire ultimately missed out on promotion – to Nottinghamshire – by two points!
And have we seen them appeal the decision? No, not as yet anyway, although they perhaps don’t have the same faint mitigating circumstances which Middlesex are trying to call upon.
Somerset are naturally concerned and monitoring events very closely, to the extent they are preparing to take legal action against the ECB should Middlesex’s appeal over a points deduction be successful.
In a statement, Somerset chief executive Lee Cooper said: “We’re confident the decision of the ECB is one which will stand.
“However, as a precautionary measure we’ve instructed a leading London-based law firm to prepare our case should the inconceivable happen. If the decision is taken to reinstate the points, we will be well placed to challenge this.”
For the sake of cricket and the possible ramifications of certain parties bringing the game into disrepute, let’s hope it does not come to that.