“I didn’t want to finish my career plodding along,” said former Middlesex captain Dawid Malan in 2019 after he chose to depart the County Championship team for England captain Joe Root’s Yorkshire.
“I’ve been captain of Middlesex for two years, and I’ve been banging my head against a wall for a wee while.”
Back in 2016, after securing the title Max Verstappen-style on the final day of the season, unbeaten Middlesex were on a high. Since that famous day at Lord’s, however, they have been relegated to Division Two, in 2017, where they have remained – albeit partly covered by a two-season Covid-19 promotion hiatus.
They attract big names, solid internationals and have a large sponsor in Nike but they chronically underperform, and will begin their fifth consecutive season out of the top flight at home to Derbyshire tomorrow.
Such a large reputation is bestowed upon Middlesex, who have won the third highest number of County Championships – behind only Yorkshire and London-based rivals Surrey – but the north London outfit are yet to win a one-day limited overs competition and haven’t lifted the Twenty20 title since 2008.
It’s hardly as if the county are short on superstars. Their four-day squad includes highly rated Pakistan bowler Shaheen Afridi, England duo Mark Stoneman and Toby Roland-Jones, and Stephen Eskinazi, who has been in the set-up since 2015.
They’re also changing the way fans can watch the county game. The competition’s media rights deal does not mean every match is televised but clubs are allowed to stream their own online games when they’re not broadcast.
Middlesex have taken this further, creating the best platform of any of the teams, with multiple angles and a higher production value.
But issues remain. The county do not own Lord’s – the home of cricket belongs to Marylebone Cricket Club – meaning they do not have exclusive control over the matchday experience and the revenue streams other clubs have.
Some counties, including Division One’s Kent, Gloucestershire and Somerset, have property developments incorporated into their grounds and are starting to receive more income from hosting some international fixtures.
Furthermore, it was revealed last year – in the midst of the pandemic – that Middlesex failed to pay players some of their pension contributions, though it was promised that this would be corrected within weeks.
What it shows, though, is that the 13-time county champions are potentially a huge club in a great location for the modern game currently being held back.
Malan summed up his decision to leave in 2019 with a compounding statement that arguably still rings true today: “Yorkshire seemed like a team that really wanted to win. I want to be somewhere that really wants to challenge to win stuff.”
County teams’ successes are dependent on so many factors, but Middlesex look to be falling behind the sport’s leaders. The ambition for the Lord’s outfit would be promotion back to Division One, and their first steps towards that feat could come with success against Derbyshire over the next four days.