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Don Topley: End of County Championship season ‘a complete mess’

Essex's remarkable County Championship win was a highlight of the season - but the relegation of Middlesex was a mess. Picture: MARTINE XERRI

Essex's remarkable County Championship win was a highlight of the season - but the relegation of Middlesex was a mess. Picture: MARTINE XERRI

Martine Xerri Photography

In his final column of 2017, Don Topley discusses an unsatisfactory end to the county cricket season with a dispute over slow over rate costing Middlesex their place in Division One.

For the second consecutive year there are issues surrounding the end of the County Championship season.

Last year Hampshire were reprieved having finished in the last two of Division One but Durham were relegated because of financial issues.

This season, Warwickshire were doomed and relegated but Somerset, Middlesex and Hampshire all fought hard to avoid the drop, right to the bitter end, to the very last over of the county season.

That final and deciding over of the season at Edgbaston, between Warwickshire and Hampshire, saw the South Coast county survive again and opened the ‘trap door’ for Middlesex who lost heavily at Somerset.

The issue now is a match earlier in the season which people may remember a cross-bow arrow being fired into the playing arena on day four between Surrey and Middlesex.

The game was heading for a draw anyway in that final session – but it was abandoned for security reasons as the aforementioned cross-bow bolt landed dangerously close to the cricket square where the fielding side, two batsmen and two umpires were.

The umpires rightly abandoned the game at The Oval as a draw, with permission sought from the ECB - clearly with security as their highest priority.

Every game, teams have to bowl so many overs an hour on average and each team is penalised, with points deducted, should they fall below what is directed.

On that particular day, where the match was abandoned, Middlesex had bowled their overs slowly and were at minus two points at the time of the abandonment.

Normally as the game peters out the fielding side’s captain would ensure they bowl a few more spinners to get through the overs quicker to improve their over-rate and thus, no penalty – exactly what every county side does.

Middlesex claim that on the day they were told there would be no penalty, given the unusual circumstances surrounding the end of the game.

But after all was said and done, they were indeed deducted two points. Those simple points have duly relegated Middlesex to Division Two, instead of Hampshire.

What a complete mess! This is completely unsatisfactory for the second season running. The playing of matches and defining results should be the only thing contributing to league positions, not over-rate penalties or anything else.

Middlesex have now demanded a hearing with the ECB and understandably, have huge reservations about their relegation.

My only contribution would be why did Middlesex not complain at the time, whilst checking the paper work and not now, at the completion of the season?

The ECB have an extremely difficult situation now to placate Middlesex, their players, and their management.

I expect the ECB to revisit the entire points allocation per match and the over-rate penalties in time for next season.

With today’s reductions in games and the concertina effect of the league tables with less points, we are not just in unchartered territory now, but unsatisfactory territory too.

The season generally has been an excellent one. England’s records against South Africa and Windies were pleasing, as too, was Essex’s incredible Championship Title.

Nottinghamshire enjoyed double white ball success with the Royal London and NatWest t20 Blast and gained promotion too.

In the amateur club scene, Sudbury surprised all by taking Swardeston’s crown in the EAPL.

I now embark with 14 over 50-year-old cricketers from East Anglia on a cricket festival in Barbados featuring Hampshire Seniors, Essex Seniors, Wiltshire Seniors and four Bajan teams.

I have just purchased some sun-cream but, I note depressingly, the adjacent aisles were full of Christmas decorations and offers.

I shall therefore sign-off and thank the EADT/EDP and all at Archant Newspapers for this summer’s writing opportunity and wish them and all the readership….a very happy Christmas!

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