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Middlesex Cricket - Members' Forum - Monday 2nd October 2017 at Lord's

Last week in the Thomas Lord Suite at Lord's almost 300 members attended the club's End of Season Members' Forum. If you weren't able to attend, here's a summary of all matters discussed.

The annual event, where members pose their questions to a panel of club representatives, saw Middlesex Chairman Mike O'Farrell, Chief Executive Richard Goatley, Treasurer David Kendix, Managing Director of Cricket Angus Fraser, and Club Captain James Franklin take their places on the question panel to discuss the season gone by.

Chairman O'Farrell got proceedings underway with an address to the room, thanking all members for their attendance, before Fraser and Goatley also offered their introductions to the members in attendance.

The Chairman stressed that last year we had won the County Championship together as a club, and that this year we were relegated as a club. The purpose of this evening's forum was not to point fingers at individuals, but to discuss the club's position rationally, and accept that responsibility for the mistakes must be taken and addressed in the right way moving forwards.

Managing Director of Cricket, Fraser, talked at length of his disappointment that just twelve months on from what was one of the most significant and enjoyable moments of his long career, we were now experiencing one of the most disappointing.

The structure of the Championship first division was a focus of concern for Fraser, who stated his belief that with two teams relegated from a top division of eight sides each year, it was almost inevitable that most counties in the coming years would be likely to experience the disappointment of relegation at one time or another. This year it was sadly us.

Fraser stressed that Middlesex's disappointing on-field performances could not be pinpointed to one area in isolation, as had this been the case, we could have addressed it throughout the season - he felt that many factors had played their part. Ultimately, we never lost two Championship games in a row at any point, although we also never won two consecutive games either. Finding consistency in our performances was clearly one of the numerous factors involved.

Fraser acknowledged that the side had quite clearly underperformed, and hadn't scored enough runs, nor taken enough wickets in each of the three formats, although he felt that the new brand of attacking cricket the club is trying to play in white ball formats saw us bowl well at times, but acknowledged that this will take time to get right. He did feel strongly that playing aggressive attacking white ball cricket is the route we need to go down if we are to build success in the shorter formats of the game moving forward.

He acknowledged that everyone in the cricket department had ultimately made mistakes this year, as they did last year, although this year we hadn't managed those situations anywhere near as well as last.

Fraser was keen to point out that the club went to lengths to be humble and hungry this year, to build on achievements from last without complacency or arrogance. He acknowledged that perhaps we should have been more ruthless at times, and could have been more aggressive in our decision making, as opportunities had passed us by throughout the season.

More positively, Fraser spoke with pride of both Dawid Malan and Toby Roland-Jones who had achieved their dreams of playing international cricket this year on the Test stage.

Fraser summed up his feelings by stating, much like O'Farrell, that in 2016 we won the Championship as a whole club, and in 2017 we lost as a whole club. No one is happy with the way we have performed, but the players and coaches have shown they have what it takes to win county cricket's biggest prize and one poor season does not mean they do not know what they are doing.

The club have been in Division One for six years, and have competed well over that period, so there is no need for panic. A thorough review of the season will take place and decisions will be made that the club feels is right and in the best interests of Middlesex Cricket moving forward.

Chief Executive Richard Goatley's address focussed mainly on two points of interest.

Firstly, the club's reaction to the playing surface down in Taunton for our final Specsavers County Championship match. He explained that the pitch had been marked as 'below average' by the match officials at the game and also by the officials who had subsequently visited the ground to assess the pitch. There would be no points deduction for Somerset given this ruling. He stressed that the club and the players had every right to feel aggrieved, and had every right to object, given that the pitch had clearly been doctored with visible rake marks on danger areas of the wicket. Now that the ECB had ruled that the pitch was marked as 'below average' and wouldn't be subject to any penalty, the matter was deemed closed.

Secondly, Goatley explained the club's position in relation to the two points deducted because of the arrow landing on the pitch at the Oval. The club feels strongly that the two-point deduction made by the ECB should be reversed. To be given assurances by the match officials at the Oval that we would not be deducted points for the negative over rate, given the extraordinary circumstances of the match abandonment, that for the ECB to then penalise the club, taking away two points that we had rightly earned, is fundamentally wrong. He explained that conversations were taking place with the ECB, who were sympathetic to our case and that discussions were ongoing. No further comment would be offered by the club until such time that a ruling had been made by the ECB.

The meeting was then opened up to the floor for questions from the members, summarised as below:

Over rates - concerns were raised over the amount of times that we were falling into a negative over rate position when in the field...

Middlesex Captain, James Franklin, acknowledged that this was an area of concern, and that as captain he was always conscious of this when in the field. There were improvements that can clearly be made, which would be acted upon moving forwards. He stressed that the reduction in the use of spin this year, due to pitch conditions not suiting them, has been a factor this season.

Academy Players - the question was raised whether we were giving enough opportunities to youngsters who we had developed through the academy, especially given the loss of Ryan Higgins to Gloucestershire, who cited lack of opportunities as his reason for leaving the club...

Angus Fraser felt that we had certainly provided youngsters with opportunities in recent years, with Nick Gubbins, Steven Eskinazi and Tom Helm being three shining examples. Higgins has chosen to turn down a contract offer from Middlesex, as we were simply unable to guarantee him the assurances he needed. The club were not afraid to make bold decisions to blood youngsters when the time was right, although would not make assurances that we could not guarantee we could keep.

Goatley added that the club remained wholly committed to the development of young cricketers moving forward, and that our youth development model is seen as a blueprint for success by the ECB and is the envy of other counties. The club remains proud of its track record for developing players.

Player Selection, Poor captaincy decisions and picking out of form players - who picks the side, who makes on field decisions, why do we back players when out of form and who chooses when to declare or when to enforce follow-ons...

Angus Fraser advised that selection of players is always a contentious issue. The coaching staff have always and always will pick the best side that they feel will win us games. We feel that showing loyalty to players and supporting them is important and backing players is something we have done this year, perhaps to our detriment at times. He added that showing players loyalty often gives a better return from the player.

James Franklin felt that he had captained this season much the same as he had done last year, but felt that things hadn't worked out for us this year, through no lack of effort from the playing group. He would reflect on things over the winter ahead, and was accepting of criticism and receptive to looking at on-field improvements moving forward. Decisions are made on-field in the heat of battle and sometimes captains get them wrong. Franklin was prepared to accept that improvements could be made and that a more positive approach could have benefited us more.

Mike O'Farrell summed up by saying that evaluating decisions made this season would form part of the review process being undertaken by the club, when looking back on the season.

Uxbridge Cricket Club - why did we play such a crucial clash there and is it up to first-class cricket...

Richard Goatley stressed that we had no option but to play the match at an outground. The Test Match meant Lord's was not available and neither was Merchant Taylors as it was term time. Other grounds would have been untried at this level. In answer to whether Uxbridge was deemed fit for first-class cricket - the answer was yes. The pitch was marked as above average by the match officials, but we came unstuck by fifteen days of rain that had fallen in the build up to the game, which left areas of the outfield unfit for play. This was completely unforeseen and could not have been avoided. 

Lord's pitches - given that went on at Taunton, why do we not have more control over the pitches at Lord's, to give us a greater home advantage...

Angus Fraser commented that pitch preparation is a subjective issue and that he would not want to push the boundaries of home advantage anywhere near what we experienced at Taunton - it is about producing the best surface for cricket. He stressed that our relationship with MCC and the ground staff was such that the pitches at Lord's were certainly better this year than last, which is a step in the right direction, and he felt that this trend would continue.

What has the club learned and what changes will be made for next year - Given the performance this year, what will the club be doing differently moving forward in division two...

Mike O'Farrell said that it would be wrong to come to this meeting so soon after the season has ended with answers and suggestions as to what will change. Discussions with players have already begun last week and this will ensure we come up with a range of considered actions that will take us back where we belong.

No cricket at weekends - Why is there such a significant shortage of weekend cricket in the schedule, which makes it difficult for those who work to watch games...

Mike O'Farrell stressed that the schedule is largely determined by the ECB and the lack of weekend fixtures was indeed far from ideal. Richard Goatley added that he was hopeful that the 2018 schedule would see a marked improvement in this, and that there would be a significant increase in the amount of weekend matches next season.

Live streaming of matches - Other counties are streaming their games live, why aren't Middlesex...

Richard Goatley commented that the club does not feel that one static camera offers sufficient quality of coverage at present, so the club have yet to pursue this. We are currently investigating ways that we can improve the quality of coverage we offer through a streaming facility and will report back to members in due course how this develops.

Players leaving - does the club anticipate any players leaving the club because of our relegation to division two...

Angus Fraser stressed that he does not envisage any players leaving because of our relegation as contracts are in place. The players have collectively and individually accepted responsibility for our performance this year and are keen to make amends and are determined to get us back into division one. Richard Goatley stressed that despite speculation, Dawid Malan is not out of contract, and has signed a long-term agreement with the club.

Dressing room discontent - are rumours in the press true of their being discontentment in the Middlesex camp...

Angus Fraser absolutely refuted this point. The players are clearly not happy that the club has been relegated, as you would expect, but they are together as a unit, comfortable in each others' company and are committed to getting the club back where it belongs.

Following some frank exchanges of views and some straight and honest talking from the panel and members present, the club's Treasurer David Kendix then ran through some points of governance and finance before the meeting was brought to a close.

The club would like to thank all those members who took the time to attend the End of Season forum and for your ongoing support this year, in what for all involved has been a disappointing season for the club.

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