Middlesex chief executive discusses club’s title chances, youth policy and the future

James Franklin of Middlesex is congratulated by his team-mates after taking a wicket in the County C

James Franklin of Middlesex is congratulated by his team-mates after taking a wicket in the County Championship match against Lancashire earlier this season. Pic: Gavin Ellis/TGS Photo - Credit: Gavin Ellis/TGS Photo

How are you finding your first year as chief executive?

n The biggest gift I got when I took this job (having previously been the club’s finance director) was that, in Gus Fraser, I had the right man in charge of our cricket. We’ve got a great relationship and he’s created stability.

It’s like having the right football manager or rugby coach – they can smooth over some cracks, whereas a poor guy in charge can trash something that’s actually very good.

We’ve had one poor year in 2014 but otherwise the curve has been upward because of that stability. With Gus being here for eight years and having the same coaches in Richard Scott and Richard Johnson, it’s really bearing fruit.

This has been our strongest season for a long time, with young players coming in and doing well, and there’s a good base now to the team.

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Most counties have a ground – we haven’t, so our shop window is the first team. While we’ve moved a lot more focus to white-ball cricket, ultimately winning the County Championship is your reason for being here.

What effect would it have on the club – and the wider game across Middlesex – if you win the County Championship this year?

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n It would be a validation of what we’ve been trying to do since 2009, when we really changed the club. I think we’ve been the best side this year and I’m sure we will play well in our last few games, but I don’t know if that means we’ll win it.

There’s a real opportunity for us, playing at Lord’s, to be an elite environment. I think, if you win the championship, you can really push those elite messages at sponsors, and that can filter down throughout the game.

The club cricket system could do with some help and I’d be very keen to put money into the recreational clubs because those are our bedrock and I want more people playing cricket.

I don’t want us to be recruiting cricketers to the side – we should have enough players coming through the system, the clubs, the schools and our academy.

That needs funding and winning a championship creates revenues, which enables you to keep strengthening the base – and that’s what it’s about, rather than strengthening at the top and buying in superstars.

Is that strategy supported by the recent emergence of players like Nick Gubbins, Stevie Eskinazi and Harry Podmore?

n There’s always a conveyor belt of players coming through but it’s a question of quality, and that’s not just about technical skills – it’s what they’re like as people.

The coaching team all work closely together, so it’s easier for players to make the transition between levels – they’re used to seeing the coaches around when they play in the second XI at Radlett.

We’ve spent a lot of money of late in regional and borough cricket, so there are lots of levels of representation where you can get into the Middlesex system and our youth results have been fantastic.

It’s an exciting time – we’ve got Max Holden, the England Under-19 captain, coming through, Ryan Higgins is waiting to play and we’ve had Tom Helm on the bench most of the season because of his injuries.

Middlesex currently play at four outgrounds while most counties are down to one – or even none. Is that situation likely to continue?

n The future will largely depend on the domestic structure going forward – how many championship games we play and how much Lord’s is available.

Of course we would play more at Lord’s if we could, but people seem to have forgotten we don’t own it and it’s not even the MCC’s choice – there are lockdown periods on the ground around a Test match.

They’re great people at Uxbridge and they worked very hard at producing some good pitches, but we never seemed to win there! In the end, if we don’t win games, we’ve got to try somewhere else.

So there’s a cricketing reason to go to Old Merchant Taylor’s School, which is effectively the home of our youth cricket now, because it’s been a place where we perform.

Radlett creates a home for players – we have a lease there, we have our own dressing-room and the players have lockers. It feels like a very good development environment.

Otherwise it’s all about spreading cricket around the county – Southgate will always be an option and we sold out our game at Richmond this year. We had more spectators there than some Test match grounds had for T20 games, which was outstanding.

There have been a lot of rumours about the introduction of city franchises – what’s your view on that, particularly in the light of Middlesex’s T20 improvement this year?

n There have been times in the past when we’ve been awful in Twenty20, but the Surrey game this year – when we chased down 196 – was an unbelievable night’s cricket, and that’s what brings people back.

I think we’re doing a lot of things right. At the moment the ECB have not given an indication of the way they want to go with city franchises, but fundamentally I’d stick to our position.

That position is that we’re selling out, Surrey are selling out and we understand there are other clubs struggling with their gates far more and I don’t know the full reason for that.

People did think there was a softness about our approach to T20 before this year and we took a bit of a sledgehammer to that by signing Brendon McCullum.

We thought he’d be an inspirational person to have around and that signified our intent – it said “we’re serious about this”.

We got through the group, which was the minimum measure of success we wanted. It was a disappointing night at Northampton in the quarter-final and we still want to do better, but I think we showed we’ve balanced our approach.

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