It’s all change at Middlesex in 2019.
After a disappointing season in which the team failed to secure promotion back to Division One and flopped in white-ball cricket, heads rolled.
Richard Scott was sacked as head coach midway through the campaign, with coaches Richard Johnson and Dave Houghton then leaving for new roles at Surrey and Derbyshire respectively. Daniel Vettori’s contract as Twenty20 coach was cut short a year early.
The man stepping into this void, and tasked with turning fortunes around, is Stuart Law. The Australian was lured from the West Indies on a four-year contract in September. Now in place, he has a lot on his plate.
Having worked for the chronically under-funded and internally chaotic West Indies, Law has plenty of experience of encountering difficulties in cricket. Happily for him there are no such problems off the pitch at Lord’s – just underperformance on it.
Middlesex finished fourth in Division Two last year behind Warwickshire, Kent and Sussex to miss out on promotion to the division which they famously won in 2016.
It was even worse elsewhere: the One-Day Cup saw them end up sixth in the south group, while under Vettori’s guidance they lost 12 of their 14 games to finish rock-bottom in the T20 Blast.
Law, who played 54 ODIs and a single Test for Australia, has a reputation for being fiery, and although he insists he’s changed since retiring, Middlesex’s players could be set for a shock.
“I’ll bring fresh ideas. I’ve softened quite considerably since my playing days,” Law said last week, speaking to the media for the first time since arriving two weeks previously.
“I try to make it completely open between myself and the players, the staff and the bosses. As long as everyone knows where they stand you can keep a team happy.”
Law shared a dressing room with former Australian captain Allan Border as a 15-year-old at Queensland and cites fearsome fast bowler Geoff Thompson as his best ever coach. He hopes to impart some of that “mental toughness” on his new players.
“I was a tough player mentally and verbally, so hopefully an ounce of toughness will rub off on the dressing room,” he said. “I’ve just watched a few of the players train and the skill level is great and the work ethic is fantastic. Hopefully we can add some steel to the mental side of things and then it will be a pretty good package.
“For me it’s about being open and honest, but also about having that hard edge, delivered with a softer touch.”
Law has been impressed with what he’s seen so far, describing Middlesex as being in a “healthy position”. Dawid Malan, James Harris, Stevie Eskinazi, Nick Gubbins, Tom Helm and Max Holden have all signed new contracts in the last week, and with bowlers Steven Finn and Toby Roland-Jones “tracking well” on the comeback from injury, Law feels he has “all bases covered”.
“When you look at this squad, the majority won the Division One championship, so the ability is there,” the 50-year-old said. “It’s a mental challenge, not a physical one.”
Law is on the lookout for new coaching staff and an overseas player, but his experience of playing county cricket with Essex, Lancashire and Derbyshire over 14 consecutive seasons between 1996 and 2009 is sure to help.
Middlesex won just 14 batting bonus points in the County Championship last season, with only four individual centuries scored.
In his playing days Law, with 79 first-class hundreds, would have been the perfect remedy. Instead Middlesex fans will have to hope his coaching can be the trigger for improvement.