On the Front Foot: Shah's abrupt dismissal leaves Middlesex's middle in a muddle

  • @stephenbrenkley

Almost disappearing under the radar last week – a splendid time to bury bad news – was Middlesex's decision to sack Owais Shah. The story was revived only by the club's crass handling of the affair. It was leaked under embargo to a newspaper which then broke the embargo, both events taking place before Shah himself had been informed. A grovelling apology was issued later on behalf of the club by the PR chap who leaked the information, but it was inexcusably shabby treatment of a batsman who has been with the club for 16 years. The decision to release him seems pretty odd, too. Less than a year ago Shah played one of the great one-day innings for England in Centurion, 98 from 89 balls, which effectively launched their one-day revival. At Middlesex he has had a lean season by his standards, although he is their leading run-scorer in both forms of limited-overs cricket. Last year he was top of their first-class averages. Angus Fraser, the county's managing director of cricket, said the team needed freshening up. In recent years Middlesex have already lost from their batting order, while still in their prime, Ed Joyce, Nick Compton, Ed Smith, Jamie Dalrymple and Billy Godleman. Still, they have re-signed Eoin Morgan, whose international duties will keep him away for much of the summer (all of it if he nails down a Test spot). But Shah will be available all season.

Loss consigned to margins

Another point to go virtually unnoticed as other matters grabbed the attention was the size of Pakistan's defeat in the Fourth Test at Lord's. The margin of an innings and 225 runs was the largest they have suffered in all Test matches, ahead of the innings and 198 runs by which they went down to Australia in Sharjah in 2002 when they were bowled out for 59 and 53. The tourists were spared being dismissed for two double-figure totals – they would have become the first side to do so in England since New Zealand in 1958 – but it was still England's third largest victory at Lord's.

Being No 1 is as easy as AB

Without lifting a bat, AB de Villiers has become the No 1 ranked one-day batsman in the world. He was at No 2, and the South African close season and ankle surgery ensured that he could not play again to alter his points. But the poor form of India's captain, MS Dhoni, in the recent Sri Lanka triangular series sent him to second. Not even 67 in the final could help Dhoni stay at No 1. Seems a strange old game where not playing can propel you to the top.

Positive spin on Mushtaq

Giles Clarke, the ECB chairman, has had a grim-faced week. Often ebullient, at the bizarre indoor presentation ceremony after the Fourth Test he looked like the cat who had not got the cream and refused to shake the hand of Pakistan's player of the series, 18-year-old Mohammad Aamer. This was hard on the heels of the no-balls-to-order allegations that were made earlier that day. Innocent until proven guilty, but had Clarke worn a black cap his judgement on the issue could not have been plainer. He will have been especially hurt after championing Pakistan's cause. But the ECB do not hold all the moral high ground. Their spin bowling coach is Mushtaq Ahmed, who was deeply implicated by the Qayyum Report into corruption in Pakistan cricket 10 years ago.