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over 4 years ago | Interviews


Four years ago, current Middlesex Disabilty captain Luke Stoner-Lewis was putting his future side to the sword. Then aged just 15 years old, he was playing for his native Kent in the D40 Development League, and, having seen his team’s attack plundered, decided to have some fun of his own.

“They got 340-odd, a couple of guys hit a hundred and one of their guys got 130 or 140. And we thought, we might as well just go out and just give it a go, see what we can do. I opened the batting and was not out at the end, 199.”

As it transpired Kent fell to a heavy defeat, the rest of his teammates contributing just 58 runs between them, and Middlesex won promotion to the top tier, the D40 National League, but his knock would have a greater effect, catching the eye of Middlesex head coach Michael Wilson. “Even I was sitting on the sideline, even though he was against my team, thinking, ‘Oh please let him get it!’ He would have been the first batsman in disability cricket to get a double hundred.”

Two years later, when Stoner-Lewis was looking for a move away from Kent (in cricketing terms only, he still lives in his hometown of Ashford), he got in touch with Wilson. “I just wanted a higher level of cricket, and more of a challenge. I was part of the England disability setup then, and everyone else was playing National League. It was just me and someone else playing in the Development League, and we thought we needed to go somewhere where we’re going to be able to play against higher level players. And I knew Michael anyway, so through that we thought Middlesex was the best option for me.”

After just one season with Middlesex, the opening batsman was entrusted with the captaincy for his adoptive county, a role he had performed previously for both his native county, and Mersham CC, the club side he plays for. This season, under his leadership, Middlesex find themselves joint-top of the table, with both them and Surrey on 66 points halfway into their six-game campaigns. The mood at the team’s base at Chiswick has rarely been higher. A lot has changed in seven years.

“When we started, we only had one player that came over to us who played for an actual club. It was a lot of people from the schools and organizations we worked with, and we picked the better ones out of that. We didn’t know where county cricket was, as a benchmark for that team, but it was very evident in our first game we were a long way off. We played Hampshire in our first ever game and they hit 383/3 and then bowled us out for 42.” The game clearly made its impression on the Middlesex coach, but you can hear the smile in his voice as he adds, “They were the team we beat for the first time on Sunday.”

For Wilson, who has been present from the very start of Middlesex’s disability programme seven years ago, it has been a wonderful journey. He has seen first-hand the transformation into a setup which this summer is likely to provide at least a plurality, if not a majority, of players representing England’s physical disability sides. “We seem to have to have the monopoly on the England programmes at the moment,” he jokes.

The other teams competing have also noticed the rapid progress Middlesex have achieved. “When our opening pair came on to bowl [against Hampshire], you could literally see the shock on the batsmen’s faces at how far our players have come in the last 12 months.”

The win over Hampshire is a watershed moment in another sense as well. With that being Hants’ second loss of the season (Essex beat them in the opening round), they are looking unlikely to qualify for the semi-finals – something of a shock considering they have won the title for each of the past three years. They are still a force to be reckoned with – Wilson reckons they are “quite comfortably” the best team in the country – but other teams have closed the gap on the reigning champions.

“For the last five or six years Hampshire have won our group, walked through a semi-final, and then met either Essex or Shropshire in the final,” Wilson says. “A changing of the guard would be nice.”

If one does come about, it will be due in part, in Middlesex’s case at least, to a wide-ranging approach to recruiting and developing players. In the Super 1s, a tournament organised primarily by the Lord’s Taverners, Wilson explains how Middlesex have double the number of teams of any other county.

“It’s made disability cricket so much more accessible to everybody right across the county because we’ve got one team in pretty much every borough. It’s really worked out well, having those fourteen teams and being able to coach those people that come in and just want to play fun cricket, and push through the ones that really want to get into that competitive side of cricket.”

Middlesex have been able to develop a wide player pool while also serving as a popular destination for players leaving other sides – three others joined alongside Stoner-Lewis ahead of last season. Wilson explains the attraction. “I just think it’s the level of support. We’re not just looking to make good cricketers at Middlesex, we’re also helping them better their outside lives as well. We’ve got eight of our players who are now qualified coaches.

“You get the opportunity to change someone’s life from not being confident in what they’re capable of, to showing them they’re capable of anything. In disability cricket, a lot of players that come to us, their confidence is shot to pieces because they’ve been told forever and eternity that they’ll never be good enough to fit in at a mainstream club.”

That is an assertion he is happy to say has been proven wrong, with all of Middlesex’s first team squad playing club cricket to a high standard.

It is also the support of the community around them which has allowed Middlesex to provide such support to disability cricketers across the county. Until two years ago the team were constantly moving but they have now made Chiswick their home, and enjoy a strong bond with the club – several of their players now play for Chiswick CC. The club now actively recruit disability cricketers players, and both sides benefit from the environment fostered by the partnership.

Whatever the reasons, the results on the pitch are clear for all to see. “I was looking the other day and thought, we’re top of the league because it’s alphabetical!” says Stoner-Lewis. “But no, we can definitely win the league. Definitely if we can play how we played on Sunday there’s no doubt about it.”

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