Neighbour's complaint threatens end of play at MCC president's club

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The Independent Online

For 166 years the bankers, lawyers and tradesmen of Shamley Green have been loyally turning out to play cricket for their village team.

Hitler's doodlebugs in the Second World War could not stop matches. Nor has modern professionalism managed to prevent a day's play on this quintessential English village green in the heart of Surrey's commuter belt. The late Brian Johnston, the much-loved cricket commentator, was a lifetime member.

But now a dispute between the club's committee and a resident has upset the tranquil sporting rhythm.

The row concerns payment for the damage caused by errant balls which head towards neigbouring houses and in particular a 1920s bungalow metres from the boundary. Its owner, Michael Burgess, says the summer bombardment has badly damaged his roof and made it impossible to sit in his garden during matches.

Ranged against him is the village club, one of whose members is the colourful president of the MCC, Robin Marlar. The club argues that since Mr Burgess, who only moved in last year, was aware of how close his new property was to the boundary he should have expected the odd ball would hit his roof.

Mr Burgess says he is prepared to take his case to court. "I don't want to stop cricket being played on the green," he said. "I used to play cricket and like the game very much but they have left me little choice and, if necessary, I will definitely go to court."

The club has a long-standing commitment to cover the cost and arrange to repair any damage caused by well-struck balls which clear the protective netting strung across the green. But the stakes were raised earlier this year when Mr Burgess, in the face of fierce local opposition, won planning permission for an extension to his bungalow.

Already in dispute over the repair of damage to his tiled roof last year, Mr Burgess wrote to the club to seek assurances that they would help protect his extended property by erecting more netting at a cost of roughly £2,000. The committee wrote back saying that to impose such a burden was unfair. But, as a gesture of goodwill, the club offered to discourage batsmen from hitting out towards Mr Burgess's house by withdrawing the award of a six for any ball that landed on his property.

Unsatisfied by this offer Mr Burgess, a clinical audit specialist, has instructed lawyers to take the case to court if necessary. His solicitors, Shoosmiths, have told the club that they would be liable for a claim if a ball injured a guest or member of Mr Burgess's family while on the property.

Shoosmiths added: "During last season, approximately 24 tiles on the roof of his bungalow were broken by direct hits. In view of this our client is understandably concerned about the safety of the three dormer windows that he is hoping to install."

The club president, Tony Hodgson, said: "We feel we are not under any obligation to provide any more protection than we do at present, neither do we have the resources ... if cricket ceased it would deprive people of the village of an interrupted pleasure they have enjoyed for 166 years."