Middlesex’s campaign against relegation remains active with an ECB discipline commission set to re-examine their overrate fine after a crossbow bolt forced an abandonment at the Oval
The English domestic season may have ended almost two weeks ago, but it still remains unclear whether Middlesex or Somerset will be relegated from Division One of the County Championship after the ECB confirmed they are considering Middlesex’s appeal against an overrate penalty.
Middlesex, the 2016 County Champions, were docked two points for a slow overrate following the early abandonment of their Championship match against Surrey at The Oval at the end of August. While they were initially told there was no appeal process available to them, the ECB have now referred the case to their Cricket Discipline Commission which is expected to reach a decision next week.
“We can confirm Middlesex CCC have appealed against the recent two-point penalty imposed for a slow-over rate during their Specsavers CC match against Surrey,” an ECB spokesman told ESPNcricinfo. “We have referred the club’s appeal to the Chairman of the Cricket Discipline Commission who is currently considering his response.”
Middlesex claim that, given the extraordinary nature of the game’s abandonment – the match was ended on the instruction of police after a crossbow bolt was fired from outside the ground and landed on the playing surface – they were denied the opportunity to rectify their overrate issue.
Although they were batting at the time, they state they intended to declare within a few overs and had ample time to bowl the overs required with the weather set fair. They also claim that they were assured by match officials, at the time of the abandonment, they would face no such penalty.
Were Middlesex to have the penalty revoked, it could well have ramifications for other sides and Somerset in particular. Somerset appeared to have achieved Division One survival with a crushing victory over Middlesex in the final round of Championship matches. But, having finished just one point above Middlesex, Somerset remain vulnerable should the overrate penalty be revoked. They might well claim, however, that they went into the final game knowing what was required of them and to change the goal posts now would be unreasonable.
It appeared initially that Middlesex had accepted the sanction. The club released a statement on September 9 in which their chief executive, Richard Goatley acknowledged “there is no scope for any further appeal” and urged Middlesex’s players to “maximise the points we take in the final few games to mitigate this loss as much as possible.” They also provided ESPNcricinfo with a statement in which “categorically” confirmed they had given “no consideration” to “any legal action… against the ECB” in relation to the incident.
But the club has continued to make representations behind the scenes. And, as the impact of the points penalty has become more apparent, they have stepped up those representations. While no formal appeals route was open to them, they requested a special hearing from the ECB in which they could make their case.
Middlesex were also bitterly disappointed by the Taunton pitch prepared for their final Championship match of the season. Clearly prepared to suit Somerset’s spinners, it was branded “disgraceful” by Angus Fraser, the Middlesex director of cricket and England selector, who went on to say he had “never seen such a doctored pitch.” While an ECB investigation found the surface to be “below average,” no points penalty was imposed.
This is the second year in succession in which the relegation issue has been muddied by disciplinary action. Durham were relegated at the end of 2016 as a punishment for their financial problems, with Hampshire reprieved in their place. It is a scenario that does nothing to enhance the reputation of the competition or the ECB.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo