With Disability History Month coming to an end yesterday, we take a trip down memory lane and look at how far Middlesex’s disability programme has come since being set up twelve years ago.
It was all started by Khushali Patel, Head of Disability Cricket at the time, and it was literally started from nothing. Emails were sent out to local clubs, schools, and disability organisations from across the county to establish what the demand would be like for a Middlesex side. This generated some interest, and in no time at all, the team was up and running!
During the first year that the Club had its disability cricket programme, there was a squad of 14 players, all raised and recruited from Kush Patel’s early ‘call-out’.
Friendly matches were arranged, with Raymond Tudor coming in to lead the group as Head Coach, with help from fellow coach Denise O’Neil. The workload was also shared with both Michael Wilson and Patel, who were at the time, full-time Middlesex employees.
Whilst Tudor and Wilson were in charge of player development and coaching, Patel was in charge of recruitment. From there, there has been no looking back, as disability cricket within the county has gone from strength-to-strength.
The Club’s first match was against Hampshire and it is fair to say that the occasion didn’t go quite to plan and proved to be quite a steep learning curve. If anything laid out the challenges that would be ahead of them, then it was their maiden appearance as a disability side. Hampshire turned up with a raft of England internationals and showed their class as they racked up 383 for 33 in their 40 overs before bundling Middlesex out for a paltry 42. A 341-run loss was, to say the least, a chastening experience and not the ideal start!
Hampshire, alongside Essex and Surrey were the dominant forces in disability cricket back then, and shared most of the England players between them. They were tough opponents, experienced at county level and some at international level, so it took some time before Middlesex were able to compete at their level. Their programmes were longer established and a lot further down the line than Middlesex’s, which was in those days, in just its infancy.
Every player within the Middlesex ranks at the time was at the beginning of their cricketing careers, with only two players having ever played the game before. The group learnt the hard way as they competed in D40 hard-ball as well as Super 9s soft-ball – losing every match in the first two seasons.
Playing both formats was key to the development of the players in the Middlesex group at the time, although the two years without a win was challenging for the players and coaches involved. Over time though, more players came in, the players Middlesex had in their squad improved, and slowly, but surely, the standard and quality that Middlesex were playing at improved.
As disability cricket evolved nationally, the arrival of the Super 1s programme, run by Lord’s Taverners as a national programme, was a game-changer for Middlesex as it provided players who wanted to play the game at an introductory level the opportunity to do so. The net result of this is that the pool of players playing the game increased significantly and it unearthed some real talent across the county that could then feed into the Middlesex disability system.
To this day, Middlesex remain the most successful county at Super 1s level, having won eight out of the 11 finals. The Hillingdon borough team currently hold the title.
A continued focus on recruitment and growth has been key for Middlesex, as over the years more and more players come into the programme. Trial sessions have unearthed further talent and have been a regular fixture in the disability calendar. Each year the numbers grow, and the Club now proudly boasts three teams that are fielded throughout the summer – D40 First Eleven, D40 Second Eleven, both playing hardball cricket and the Super 9s team who play softball format. There are plans to expand the setup by introducing a third D40 side and another Super 9s outfit.
With the Club offering full support to its disability programme, word has spread among other counties, leaving Wilson with the advantage of now taking calls from other counties players who see what Middlesex are doing, and coming to join the Club as our programme offers them what they need as players.
For Wilson, who has been Head Coach of the Operation since 2017, there have been plenty of highlights over the time he has been involved. The first win against Kent in 2014 after a tough couple of years still stands out, as does the time when Middlesex defeated local rivals Surrey on the Nursery Ground at Lord’s with two balls to spare. Wilson also takes great pride in the fact that under his guidance, several players have earned international call-ups, to both the England learning and physical disability sides, which whilst this is something he celebrates, it also leads to challenges over selection and player availability, when his sides are weakened as players leave for international duty. This was no more telling than this year, when Middlesex’s D40 First Eleven’s only loss came to Hampshire, with half of Wilson’s side away with England at the Ashes. That loss cost Middlesex the national league tile, something that pains Wilson greatly.
Wilson believes it is the organisation of Middlesex’s programme that makes us stand out from the other counties and the backing he receives from the Club. From Super 1’s right through to the first-eleven, Wilson says the entire set-up is run with great professionalism.
Looking forward to future looks bright, with more Clubs becoming Disability Champion Clubs and more Clubs now running disability programmes than ever before, the talent pool will just keep growing.
Away from the on-field performances, Wilson is proud of the way that players and their families are welcomed into the Middlesex family and how much of a tight-knight community has been created. Many of the players rely on the disability programme for their main source of friendships, and Wilson has seen at first-hand what an incredible impact being part of the disability programme can have on his players. One such player, who joined the squads five years or so ago, used to arrive with his parents for the sessions then leave straight way, having minimal engagement with the rest of his teammates, five years on, he has grown as an individual and as a cricketer – he now plays regularly for his recreational club’s second eleven, is one of the funniest and loudest members of the group, plays in the Disability Premier League and has been in the England Lions and England team – Wilson believes that nothing showcases the power of disability cricket better than this!
Heading into to 2023 and beyond, Wilson has ambitions to guide the D40 First Eleven to win their national Quest league and further strengthen ties with more clubs as we continue develop and grow our disability setup.
Our thanks to Michael Wilson for providing us with his thoughts on the development of Middlesex’s Disability sides over the twelve years he has been involved.