For Middlesex, second place in the County Championship in 2015 was an excellent achievement. Never mind that they finished 68 points behind champions Yorkshire.
They lost only two matches, to Yorkshire and Worcestershire, while also handing out a 246-run beating to the champions so, in that respect at least, could claim honours were even.
Occasional frailties in the batting were largely outweighed by the strength of the pace attack, led by James Harris who took 69 Championship wickets.
Shining a spotlight on Middlesex’s four-day exploits cannot hide the fact that, in white-ball cricket, the county dramatically underperformed. In the NatWest T20 Blast, Middlesex finished bottom of the South Group for the second season in a row, winning just four games and losing nine.
The Royal London One-Day Cup offered little relief. Seventh out of nine in Group B gave fans little to cheer about, just three games out of nine being won.
Together with Harris, Tim Murtagh and Toby Roland-Jones formed an effective seam attack with Steve Finn contributing when available. Although Nick Compton topped 1,000 first class runs, both he and Sam Robson had relatively disappointing seasons with the bat. Dawid Malan, on the other hand, scored well in all tournaments.
For 2016, Middlesex have taken the unusual step of appointing three different captains. Eoin Morgan, who has both IPL and England commitments, has stood down. Malan will captain in T20 matches, Adam Voges in the Specsavers County Championship and James Franklin in the Royal London competition.
Unkind critics have labelled the new captains as a trio of foreigners. Malan, brought up in South Africa, was, in fact, born in Surrey, though that may be enough to qualify him as foreign in the eyes of some supporters.
Off the field, Richard Goatley has been promoted to chief executive of the club, having previously been chief operating officer. He has a law degree and is a chartered accountant as well as being a lifelong Middlesex supporter. Unlike one or two Middlesex fielders of recent times, he is regarded as a safe pair of hands.
There can be no doubt that an improvement in results in the shorter forms of the game is high on the list of aims for 2016. If this can be combined with consistent results in the Championship, Middlesex will be well on the way to re-asserting themselves as one of the top counties.
Ins: James Fuller (Gloucestershire)
Outs: Neil Dexter (Leicestershire), Harry Podmore (short-term loan to Glamorgan), Gurjit Sandhu (released)
The aforementioned Dawid Malan is likely to be a key man in all formats. He achieved in 2015 the batting consistency that has previously eluded him and this was rewarded with a successful England Lions tour in the winter. Supporters will be hoping that Malan can build on this in 2016.
If it takes him out of the Middlesex ranks and into one of the full England squads, fans will have mixed feelings. A sense of loss will be tempered by pride if at the age of 28, Malan can finally make it to the level that has for several years seemed just beyond his grasp.
Player to Watch
In one-day cricket last year, Nick Gubbins made a bit of a breakthrough. A left-hand bat who has come up through the Middlesex Academy, he hit a hundred and two fifties in just six List A games in 2015. Aged just 22, there is little doubt that he has a great future.
As Angus Fraser has said: “”We believe Nick is an exciting talent and we know he has an excellent work ethic. The two qualities give him a great chance of having a long and distinguished career in cricket.”
All he needs now are the opportunities and a little luck. It could be that 2016 will provide both.
Adam Voges will be the main overseas player, though he will be absent with Australia in July. Middlesex fans will hope that he can maintain his prolific run-scoring streak that has, after 15 Test matches, brought him an average of 95.
Equally exciting is the signing of Brendon McCullum for the T20 Blast. Having retired from international cricket, he will bring his sensational hitting skills to Middlesex between May, when he finishes his IPL stint, and June 25.
The signing of New Zealander Mitchell McClenaghan seems less exciting but the left-arm pace bowler could be a key factor in reviving the team’s T20 fortunes.
How they will fare
The County Championship will be highly competitive this year; and champions Yorkshire will be very difficult to beat. So a top three finish would be an excellent achievement, but don’t be surprised if mid-table proves to be a more realistic outcome.
By contrast, Middlesex really should experience an upsurge in results in white ball cricket. The two Kiwi Macs, McCullum and McClenaghan might just propel Middlesex to T20 Finals Day. Once there, anything can happen. In the Royal London Cup, an improvement on last year’s seventh place in their group will be the minimum ambition and should be achievable.
v Warwickshire, Sunday April 17 at Lord’s
Specsavers County Championship Division 1: 15/2