November 7, 2008

Writer to director

Old Middlesex alumnus Angus Fraser will have plenty on his plate when he takes over as head of operations at the club soon

Among other tasks, Fraser will need to look into a potential merger between Middlesex and the MCC © Getty Images

Angus Fraser was on holiday in Pembrokeshire when it was announced, somewhat prematurely, on the Middlesex website that he would be commencing running their cricketing operations in the New Year. He emphasised upon returning to his home in Pinner that he had yet to finalise a contract and was still committed to covering England's tour of India for the Independent, the newspaper for which he is now the sole remaining cricket writer. It is as well he is not taking over this week, a time when Ed Joyce has finalised his move to Sussex, Ed Smith is seeking severance pay, and the side that was sent to Antigua has returned home, defeated, from the Stanford Twenty20 jamboree. All this and the very future of the club to be resolved as a result of the kaleidoscopic redevelopment at Lord's.

A pity also, then, that Fraser, a man who attracts great goodwill, did not start his "operations" - a necessarily loose term - at the start of a summer in which the Middlesex membership was pressing for a special general meeting. Kevin Howells, the BBC journalist, says that of all the important former cricketers he interviews, Fraser and David Gower are the most approachable in the sense of being consistently affable and lacking in airs and graces.

"I shall miss journalism," said Fraser, 43, "but I would like to carry on writing." How much time he will have for that or radio summarising is another matter. The captaincy of Middlesex has been resolved for next summer, but precious little else has been. To suggest, as Vinny Codrington, the secretary, appeared to do this week, that Neil Dexter would make for a suitable replacement for Joyce, is fanciful thinking. Of greater significance is that the highly regarded Dawid Malan, his place in the batting order more or less assured as a result of Joyce's departure, will stay. The pitches at Hove are no better than they are at Lord's, so the motive for Joyce's departure cannot be to score more runs and hence be picked for England. Seemingly it had more to do with playing under Smith. Joyce's departure was in motion before Shaun Udal was appointed captain in Smith's place for 2009. It is not altogether inconceivable that Smith could take Fraser's position at the Independent.

Fraser, to whom Toby Radford will be reporting as coach, will also be looking at the wider picture of the relationship Middlesex, the tenants, have with the MCC in light of the masterplan that has been drawn up for their future. Both clubs have decided not to look to buy the picturesque ground at Shenley, with which both have an association and which is on the market for £3 million. The remaining lease runs to 91 years and it is covenanted for the purpose of playing cricket, but the pavilion, designed by WG Grace, would have to be demolished.

How much time Fraser will have for writing or radio summarising is another matter. The captaincy of Middlesex has been resolved for next summer, but precious little else has been

"There is a problem with a right of way across the ground," said Richard Goatley, the Middlesex accountant. Radlett is considered a better option for out-matches, along with Southgate, Richmond and Uxbridge, when the rebuilding of Lord's is underway. There is no decision as yet on where the Middlesex offices should be sited. Or if the two clubs should merge to form, as Keith Bradshaw, the secretary of MCC, puts it, "the Manchester United of cricket". Bradshaw and Codrington have discussed this idea, originally mooted informally in the past by Phil Edmonds before he stood down as Middlesex chairman.

"I would not be against that," said Fraser. "I would see it as a win-win situation for both clubs. They both have a huge history and MCC is looking for a role in cricket. A lot depends on what direction it wants to move in, but Middlesex want to play at Lord's as much as possible.

"There is a sense of belonging and there are stands named after famous Middlesex players. On the other hand, if we were to own a ground, it would open up the potential for earnings. I have not found out yet where everyone sits in the present economic climate."

Middlesex might have to play more matches away from Lord's, anyway, as the ever-expanding fixture list means that instead of the season there finishing in early September, it will continue in future into the start of October according to Bradshaw. The recession is not likely to affect the redevelopment of Lord's, even though the costs involved are mind-boggling: £300m and rising, for there will always be a demand for prime property in St John's Wood.

The lure of his old county has proved irresistible to Fraser and his appointment will placate the demanding membership, but he has much to do to restore unity and in shaping the future.