A midweek start to a county championship match at Grace Road is usually a moribund affair, but not so yesterday as Leicestershire took to the field for the first day’s play against Surrey. Unfortunately, though, this had more to do with recent events off the field than on it.
On Monday, news broke that captain Matthew Hoggard had written a letter, also signed by coach Tim Boon, to the board demanding the resignation of chairman Neil Davidson. This was the latest development in a shemozzle that has been ongoing since chief executive David Smith resigned back in June citing interference from the board in team selection: one instance allegedly being the insistence of Davidson on the selection of spinner Jigar Naik to play at a T20 game versus Yorkshire, despite Naik being unfit to play.
Since then allegations, recriminations and petty insults have flown back and forth between Davidson and Smith, and a petition drawn up by Leicestershire members demanding a Special General Meeting calling for a vote of no confidence in Davidson and the board was rejected on the grounds that it did not conform to club rules: namely that three pages of the petition did not contain the resolutions, and that the petition itself was handed in to the offices at Grace Road rather than the secretary’s office which is, inexplicably, in Nottingham. Some may call these legal technicalities, others, loopholes; however one wishes to describe them, the rejection of this petition looks petty, despotic and a thinly-veiled stalling tactic designed to avoid a frank and open discussion of issues which have plunged the club into a crisis unprecedented in its history.
When David Smith resigned he stated he wished to call an extraordinary general meeting to discuss these issues but did not hold out much hope of raising one as “unfortunately our members seem to be passive”.
Well, not any more. Despite an indifferent weather forecast, attendance was most definitely up yesterday, and as dark rain clouds moved in over Grace Road I sat amidst a lot of extremely angry members irritated not only by Davidson’s evasiveness and his unwillingness to have things discussed in an open and democratic manner, but by the rejection of their petition, an arrogantly defensive letter sent out several weeks ago by Davidson to the membership that was a mixture of personal insult and rank hypocrisy, and the fact the situation has deteriorated so much that coach, captain and players have been moved to make their feelings clear.
We clustered round the TV in the Meet as Davidson was interviewed by a Sky Sports News reporter and I would be lying if I said that what I heard did not irritate me in the extreme.
Firstly, Davidson said he did not interfere in selection “on a week-to-week… day-to-day basis; it’s when we lose matches we should win and we lost all our home games in Twenty20 this year bar one which was rained off”. He also cited the county’s record in this year’s CB40 tournament, using the example of Leicestershire losing twice to Scotland, “who’ve lost by nine wickets to Afghanistan”. What he strangely neglected to mention was that Leicestershire have won six of their eight Twenty20 matches away, the Foxes stand a mathematical chance of promotion in the county championship, and the day after their defeat by Afghanistan, Scotland beat them by six wickets: Afghanistan are a promising and emerging Associate nation, and Scotland are capable on their day of beating better opponents than Leicestershire. Davidson thus in the space of one sentence managed to insult Leicestershire, Scotland and Afghanistan: no mean achievement but perhaps not an overly desirable quality in a spokesman for the club one is a member of. (I should confess that a large part of my anger stems from the fact I am Scottish, a Leicestershire member, and have nothing but huge respect and admiration for the Afghanistan cricket team, so for Davidson to piss me off any more than he did yesterday would have taken some beating.)
Davidson also took Hoggard and Boon to task for “setting a very poor example to our fine young players about how they should behave at a cricket club,” saying it was up to the members to decide the fate of the chairman; lip-service at best to any illusion of democracy considering the rejection of the first petition.
He also stated he would have preferred this whole sorry brouhaha to be conducted behind closed doors, which, given what has been aired in the press, is hypocritical at best.
There is obviously more going on behind the scenes than the majority of the Leicestershire membership are privy to, which underlines the absolute need for a special general meeting, a view former chief executive Mike Turner – having held his peace until now – holds strongly.
At the time of writing, signatures for a second petition have been gathered, and this will be presented to the board within the next couple of days. The Leicestershire board will also meet to discuss the fate of Davidson, who is currently on holiday in Italy. The board can ask him to step down as chairman, but only a vote by the membership can remove him from the board. So we shall see.
In the meantime, I should mention there was a cricket match going on. As well as having a rough day off the field, our lads did not fare much better on it as Leicestershire’s nemesis, Mark Ramprakash, made merry with the bowling to score his 113th century and his 7th against the county. It was a display of batting that was assured, professional, and a joy to watch: a stark contrast to the ugliness that currently simmers at Grace Road and which must be dealt with swiftly if the club is to move on and continue developing its own not inconsiderable talent.