Middlesex’s appeal against an over-rate penalty has been denied, confirming their relegation from Division One in the County Championship.
Middlesex, who were penalised two points for a slow over-rate following their match against Surrey at The Oval in August, had appealed the decision on the grounds of the extraordinary events that led to the early finish of that game. The match was called off a couple of hours early on the instructions of police after a crossbow bolt was fired on to the playing surface from outside the stadium.
Middlesex, who were batting at the time of the incident, claimed the abandonment denied them the opportunity to declare their second innings and catch up on their overrate in the dying moments of the match. They also claimed that, at the time of the abandonment, they were assured by match officials they would face no such sanction.
Had the appeal proved successful, Middlesex would have moved above Somerset in the Division One table (only a point separated them) with Somerset falling into the relegation positions as a consequence. Somerset had previously stated they would take legal action against the ECB should they suffer relegation in such fashion.
But the ECB’s Cricket Discipline Commission (CDC) dismissed Middlesex’s arguments and upheld the two-point deduction. As a result, the relegation of Middlesex – the 2016 County Champions – is confirmed and Somerset will play Division One cricket in 2018.
“It is in the interests of the whole game that arrangements are put in place to prevent slow over rates, and it is noted that the requirement of 16 overs per hour is a minimum rate,” Tim O’Gorman, the CDC Chairman, said
“The rules relating to over rates are clear and understood by all teams, coaches, players, and captains. 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. If, for any reason, they are unable to make the time up, the appropriate sanction will be imposed.
“Middlesex have sought to argue that it was only because of the abandonment of the game that they did not make up their overs but that cannot be entirely correct. There was no guarantee that, if the game had run its normal course those overs could ever have been made up.
“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. It is not within the power or gift of either the umpires or the players to make deals like that. The match was abandoned for safety reasons. Play ended accordingly and the points earned or deducted should stand with effect from that time.”
The ECB also acknowledged that over-rate penalties – applied under Playing Condition 16.4 – are automatically applied and come with no right of appeal. They accepted, however, that such was the unusual context of this decision that Middlesex (and the ECB) should be able to send submissions to O’Gorman. He concluded that it was not a matter that should be referred to a CDC panel hearing.
Richard Goatley, the Middlesex chief executive, 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 the First Division at the earliest opportunity.”
The affair may leave an unsavoury taste in the mouth, however. Not only is it far from ideal to confirm such matters almost three-weeks after the season’s end, but the matter has highlighted a loophole in the playing regulations. It is not unusual for teams to attempt to catch-up their overrate in something approaching farcical circumstances. If the penalties were applied by the innings, or even by the session, rather than by the match, they might prove more effective.
The comments of Lee Cooper, the Somerset chief executive, also raised questions about the integrity of the ECB disciplinary process. He claimed he had been given some sort of “reassurances” that the appeal took place only so the ECB could be “seen to be going through a process” and was assured Somerset had “nothing to worry about.”
The ECB declined to comment on Cooper’s words.