Middlesex will play in Division Two of the Specsavers County Championship next season after the ECB announced today that it will uphold the club’s two point suspension for a slow over-rate.
Relegated Middlesex were docked points having fallen behind in the first innings of their match against Surrey at The Kia Oval in August, before the match was ended prematurely after a crossbow bolt was fired onto the pitch.
Umpires Peter Hartley and Michael Gough took the players from the field and the game was abandoned with Middlesex unable to rectify their over-rate.
Although they were batting in their second innings at the time, the club says the umpires promised no penalty would be inflicted due to the extraneous circumstances under which play ended.
This was subsequently revoked by the ECB, and Middlesex finished a point behind Somerset, whom they lost to at Taunton in the final match of the season.
Tim O’Gorman, chairman of the Cricket Discipline Commission (CDC), said in a statement Tuesday: “It is not within the power or gift of either the umpires or the players to make deals like that.
“I do not accept that Middlesex only agreed to the abandonment of the match on condition that their slow over-rate in the first innings would be overlooked.
“The match was abandoned for safety reasons. Play ended accordingly and the points earned or deducted should stand with effect from that time.”
Under Playing Condition 16.4 of the English first-class game, over-rate penalties are automatically applied with no right of appeal, but the ECB made an exception because of the unusual abandonment.
Middlesex, at the time, led by 181 runs and after the deduction claimed that they planned to declare and make up their overs.
But O’Gorman rejected this notion, stating: “Although it may be common practice that teams will seek to make up time later in a match, even in the second innings, if they seek to do this they must also be aware that approaching their over-rate in such a way carries with it an inherent risk.
“There was no guarantee that, if the game run its normal course those overs could ever have been made up.”
It means that Somerset can freely prepare for an 11th straight season in Division One – they are the longest standing county in the top-flight.
Club CEO Lee Cooper praised the ECB’s decision in a statement: “We were confident that the ECB’s original decision would stand and we are delighted with the outcome.
“We are pleased that this has now been put to rest and we can concentrate on preparing for next season in the First Division of the Specsavers County Championship.”
The decision ends a saga that has lasted nearly five weeks. Middlesex were handed the penalty on Saturday, 9th September and lodged submissions to the CDC last Wednesday.
Middlesex chief executive Richard Goatley said: “Whilst we still believe the imposition of the penalty was unjust, we accept the decision of the Chairman of the CDC and will move on.
“We do not believe that any further action is in the interests of Middlesex or the wider game. We will now focus on regaining a place in Division One at the earliest opportunity.”
Had Middlesex’s penalty been reinstated, it would have been the second consecutive year that an off-field decision had altered the fate of relegation after Durham were relegated in October last season as punishment for financial infringements.