Nothing less than promotion will do for Middlesex in 2019 as the county champions from three years ago bid to return to the upper echelon.
As victors in 2016 – in dramatic circumstances with a Toby Roland-Jones hat-trick to beat Yorkshire – many expected that to be just the beginning for the Lord’s regulars.
But with relegation a year later and a season of stabilising as opposed to thriving in the last campaign, getting back on track is the order of the day for the next few months.
With three of the ten teams going up into Division One for 2020, excuses for failure won’t wash this time around.
Former Australian batsman Stuart Law takes the reins and with a squad bursting with international stars and emerging talent, the stage is set for the good times to come back to north London.
MIDDLESEX SIGN AB DE VILLIERS 💥— Middlesex Cricket (@Middlesex_CCC) February 25, 2019
We are thrilled to announce that @ABdeVilliers17 has signed for Middlesex to play in this year’s @VitalityBlast! 🙌
We can’t wait to see him in action this Summer! #ABsigns #TeamMiddlesex
Full story 👉https://t.co/fjuXXd1AMM pic.twitter.com/77nGkp0QxL
And they’ll certainly need it. Just 14 bonus points were accrued with the bat last season but with Nick Gubbins, Sam Robson, Eoin Morgan and Dawid Malan all set to be around for large parts of the season, the lack of four-day runs shouldn’t be a regular issue.
The retirement of Nick Compton is an obvious blow, while James Fuller, James Franklin and Ravi Patel are among those to venture to pastures new with just Mujeeb Ur Rahman coming the other way.
Four-day disappointment may have come as a surprise last year but the one-day failures were perhaps less of a shock, with another disappointing campaign in both white-ball campaigns.
T20 cricket and Middlesex have never really gone hand in hand but a ninth-place finish in the South Group saw the sell-out Thursday night crowds once again disappointed.
The Royal London One-Day Cup wasn’t much to write home about either with the county coming sixth, with neither of their star bowlers in the two competitions, Patel and Fuller, donning the Seaxes uniform this year.
But a chance to get back to zero points may prove to be a blessing to Middlesex more than most, particularly with their noisy neighbours Surrey having plenty to shout about over the past 12 months.
Ins: Jack Davies (youth), Mujeeb Ur Rahman (Hampshire)
Outs: Ravi Patel (released), James Fuller (Hampshire), Nick Compton (retired), James Franklin (released), Tom Lace (Derbyshire, loan)
It wasn’t that long ago that Dawid Malan was a Test batsman.
And while his form in the whites of England didn’t pull up any trees, the middle-order man is probably just one collapse from being back in the conversation.
PRESS DAY INTERVIEW 🎙️— Middlesex Cricket (@Middlesex_CCC) April 4, 2019
Club Captain @dmalan29 speaks about his relationship with Head Coach Stuart Law and his aspirations for the 2019 season! 👊
Listen here 👉 https://t.co/eqkeAdFYM3 pic.twitter.com/ZOdzOKMSgC
Division Two cricket may not be the biggest supporter of his cause but weight of runs will certainly count for something as the 31-year-old looks to address his main Test fault – not scoring enough runs on home soil.
Player to Watch
Consistency is so often the watch-word with talented youngsters but if Ethan Bamber can find the elusive form time after time, Middlesex will have a special player on their books.
Midway through last season the 20-year-old had yet to play but with six encouraging first-class matches yielding 28 wickets at 20.25, he’ll certainly be looking forward to the new season.
That ended a year in which he also finished as England’s joint leading wicket-taker at the U19 World Cup, while he also balances a county career with studying for a Theology degree at Exeter University.
Finding a T20 gun is as easy as ABDV for Middlesex in 2019. Form in English cricket’s shortest format – for now – may be abject but with South African legend AB de Villiers now in their ranks, there’s every chance their fortunes could be transformed.
One player doesn’t make a team but in de Villiers, Middlesex have a true star – one who is available for the first seven matches and the latter stages of the Blast.
A veteran he may be at 35, but the London county’s other import doesn’t share the same experience-talented teen Mujeeb Ur Rahman.
Already a Test player, Mujeeb became the youngest player to take a ODI five-wicket haul, making his Afghanistan debut aged just 16.
The off-break bowler – who turned 18 late last month – already has experience of the Blast having played for Hampshire last year.
How they’ll fare
Promotion is the name of the game this year – and that’s ultimately what the Middlesex hierarchy will be judged on. With 30 per cent of the teams going up, you’d have to bank on Stuart Law’s side being among them.
Limited-overs cricket won’t make or break their season but an improvement is certainly required, with early-season success from the four-day game potentially trickling down into the shorter games.
SSCC v Northamptonshire, – County Ground, Northampton – April 5, 11am
Season Odds (SkyBet)
Specsavers County Championship Division Two – 11/4
Royal London One-Day Cup – 20/1
Natwest T20 Blast – 14/1