The handover, which was due to take place at the end of the season, comes at a time when Middlesex have made one of their poorest starts to a season, one that has included becoming the first county to lose to Ireland in the Benson and Hedges Cup, a competition in which they failed to win a single match.
Gatting, however, is no quitter and clearly feels that with the extra demands now made on him as an England selector, Middlesex's interests would be best served by a younger captain appointed sooner rather than later, although David Graveney, England's chairman of selectors, admitted yesterday that Gatting's move was a complete surprise to him.
"It's the end of an era," he said. "I haven't had chance to talk to Mike yet but he must have a very good reason for what he has done. No doubt I will find out what that is in time."
Nevertheless, his decision to stand aside now will inevitably lead to speculation that this season, despite a playing contract until the end of next year, may be his last, especially if he is made coach when Don Bennett retires at the end of this season.
If it is, he will depart having overseen one of the most succesful periods seen at Middlesex. Since 1983, the county have won the Championship three times, both knock-out cups twice and the Sunday League once. It is a record only Essex - and they under two captains - can match over the same period.
They say good captains need good teams and Middlesex were fortunate to have both. But although Gatting's batting and leadership had to compete hard with the incessant jibes about his appetite, he was a shrewd tactician and an even tougher competitor.
It was a combination that brought huge reward when he captained England in Australia in 1986-87, when his touring team trounced the Aussies to retain the Ashes - the last time England held them.
That tour, which included winning the World Series as well as the Perth Challenge, was undoubtedly the crowning moment in an international career otherwise tainted, first by the Shakoor Rana incident, and then by an alleged liaison with a barmaid.
But if the ramifications of the first incident blew over, those from the latter did not. When Ted Dexter appointed Gatting as England captain for the 1989 Ashes series, Ossie Wheatley, the then chairman of the Test and County Cricket Board, vetoed the move and David Gower was appointed instead. The upshot was that this proud and patriotic man decided to go to South Africa and turn his back on a hierarchy he felt had never truly been behind him.
Mainly, though, he appeared to treat success and failure with cheery equanimity, a characteristic that made him popular with players as well as press. It is almost inconceivable that those squeaky instructions, coming as if from the recesses of a rotund pull-string doll, will be heard no more.
Those sounds were associated with success and will be missed by more than those who follow Middlesex.
MIDDLESEX'S POST-WAR CAPTAINS
1946-47 R W V Robins
1948-49 F G Mann
1950 R W V Robins
1951-52 W J Edrich
& D C S Compton
1953-57 W J Edrich
1958-60 J J Warr
1961-62 P I Bedford
1963-64 C D Drybrough
1965-67 F J Titmus
1968 F J Titmus & P H Parfitt
1969-70 P H Parfitt
1971-82 J M Brearley
1983-97 M W Gatting
1997... M R Ramprakash
1997 SEASON SO FAR
1 Apr: Lost to Essex by 1 wkt (B&H). 3 Apr: Lost to Glamorgan by 7 runs (B&H).
5 Apr: Lost to Essex by 66 runs (AXA).
8 Apr: Drew with Sussex (CC).
13 Apr: Lost to Somerset by 27 runs (B&H).
15 Apr: Beat Derbyshire by 131 runs (CC).
19 Apr: Beat Derbyshire by 4 wkts (AXA).
23 Apr: Lost to Warwicks by 8 wkts (CC).
26 Apr: Lost to Warwicks by 108 runs.
P W D L Bt Bwl Pts
Middx (7th) 3 1 1 1 45 12 36Reuse content