County cricket June 24, 2008

Middlesex's timing awry

At Lord's on July 22, Middlesex will hold a special general meeting. But with the club now finding their form, their timing is all awry, argues Ivo Tennant

The timing of Middlesex's special general meeting is all awry: the club have suddenly found their form, particularly in the Twenty20 Cup © Getty Images

At Lord's on July 22, Middlesex will hold a special general meeting brought about by what Gubby Allen would have called a rump of the membership of 8,500. A club not known for its insurrection will debate a motion of no confidence in the committee and its Secretary, and by implication the captain as well. The members' gripe is that a trophy has not been won since 1993. The necessary 100 signatures were collected earlier in the season when Ed Smith's side were 60 for 5 against Derbyshire and bottom of the second division County Championship table.

The timing, as it happened, was awry. A better moment would have been the end of the 2006 season, when Middlesex finished bottom in the first division of the Championship, of division one of the Pro40 league and of the South group in the Twenty20 Cup. After that collapse against Derbyshire, the match was won - as were seven of the following eight fixtures, including five in a row in the Twenty20 competition. The crowds were impressive, too: the three Twenty20 fixtures at Lord's attracted an estimated 46,500. The club may have been divided to some extent but the players, Smith insisted, were not.

Middlesex members, of course, were spoilt during the 1970s and 1980s. Between 1976 and 1993, under the captaincy of Mike Brearley and Mike Gatting, the club won 14 trophies. The sides contained a fine mix of Test cricketers, consistent county professionals and excellent overseas signings, with some strong characters among them. The leadership was high-class, the coaching of Don Bennett unobtrusive and highly rated. Bob Gale and Harry Sharp, respectively the chairman of the cricket committee and the scorer, both former Middlesex batsmen, appeared to exemplify the solidity and continuity of the club.

Times changed through retirements and deaths. Prominent imported Australians, Justin Langer and John Buchanan, detected a lack of aspiration, although that seemed to apply to county cricket as a whole. Mark Ramprakash departed to make his runs for, of all counties, Surrey. There were no more trophies. The very existence of Middlesex, swallowed up as it was by Greater London, was questionable. As tenants of MCC, the club had always had a slightly nebulous position at Lord's, anyway, but now an Australian, Keith Bradshaw, was drawing up grand plans for the redevelopment of the great ground and Middlesex did not know - still do not know - where their new offices would be. MCC's public relations was ratcheted up several notches. There was talk of creating the Manchester United of cricket in St John's Wood, of merging the two clubs. And it did not take a genius to work out who would be the dominant partner.

The prime individuals in this dispute make for an unlikely pairing. The secretary of Middlesex is Vinny Codrington, a likeable, softly spoken 51-year-old man whose silvery hair gives him a slightly donnish appearance. This is perhaps appropriate, for the leader of the insurrectionists is one Professor David Silverman and the (thus far) sole letter to The Times about the conduct of Middlesex this season was written by a clergyman. So there should be no hurling of tea cups around Lord's on July 22. "If I were a Middlesex member, I would be looking forward to ten years excellent cricket," said Smith. "We did not play well for a month this season but the future looks so good with the likes of [Steve] Finn, [Billy] Godleman, [Eoin] Morgan and [Dan] Housego."

In another sense, apart from not having won a trophy for 15 years, Middlesex, owned by Industrial and Provident Society but run on behalf of the members, have brought this upon themselves. For only 100 signatures of malcontents to be required to bring about a special meeting, which will cost £6-7000, smacks of the Conservative party's uprising against Mrs Thatcher. Then, as now, such action was not anticipated and in due course the club will have to change its amendment, assuming, of course, it survives a vote of no confidence. What with the improvement in form on the field and an 18-man committee that includes Bennett, Paul Downton, Gus Fraser, Simon Hughes and Alan Moss, it should do.

Other issues, though, will emerge during the course of the evening, when votes by proxy will be permitted. "If we play as badly over the next month as we have played well over the past month, you never know what will happen," said Codrington. "The motion is critical of the manner in which the appointment of the captain was made, that we have picked too many fast bowlers who become injured, and of me as secretary. Professor Silverman feels someone with better commercial experience is needed in my position because I cannot fill Lord's with commercial advertising.

"We did not try to dissuade him from bringing about this meeting and I do not view it as anything other than important. This would have happened if Phil Edmonds had still been chairman. But it could have been called at the end of the season rather than at our busiest time of year. In January I was asked by the committee to carry out a full structural review because of our lack of trophies and this was finished two weeks before the motion was submitted. It is going through committee now but the findings over whether the committee is too big and the constitution undemocratic will not be completed in time for the special meeting. And it was mentioned at the members' forum in February that this was being undertaken. So we might have to have another special meeting to change the rules prior to the agm."