Humble, and hungry. Those are the words Angus Fraser chooses when summing up how he wants his Middlesex players to react to the challenge of defending their Specsavers County Championship title this summer.
Fraser, Middlesex’s managing director of cricket, knows it will be a tough task given the quality of the other seven teams in what for the first time in 2017 is a slimmed-down Division One elite.
Yet events of the winter, including this week’s thrilling one-wicket victory against MCC in the champion county match in Abu Dhabi, which featured a brilliant match-winning 89 not out by wicketkeeper John Simpson as Middlesex chased down 305 in the fourth innings, have left even the famously lugubrious Fraser - a man who describes his job at Middlesex as “being paid to worry” - visibly excited by the summer ahead.
“Last season was a memorable one for everyone at Middlesex,” said Fraser. “Virtually every player contributed in some way to our success, and I would have been very disappointed if I had needed to let anyone go.
"As it is, we have Adam Voges coming back to us as a permanent and high-class overseas player, and hopefully Adam is going to be around a lot more now he’s retired from international cricket than he was able to be in the past few years.”
Voges, the 37-year-old Australian, is available for 13 Championship and all eight Royal London One-Day Cup group games, whereas in three previous seasons with Middlesex he has made just 14 Championship appearances, averaging 61.
“James Franklin deserves to keep the captaincy of the Championship and 50-over teams after the way he led the team in Adam’s absences last season,” added Fraser. “And the winter months have seen a lot of personal achievement in terms of the way many of our players have performed in various parts of the world.”
Seamer Toby-Roland Jones and off spinner Ollie Rayner both made significant contributions at England Lions level, while batsmen Nick Gubbins and Dawid Malan and fast bowlers Tom Helm and James Fuller also won representative honours at either Lions or South level, or both.
Max Holden, another highly-promising top order batsman to come through Middlesex’s youth ranks, captained England Under-19s and will spend the first few months of this summer on loan with Northants, while Paul Stirling and Tim Murtagh represented Ireland.
Franklin and Malan appeared in the Pakistan Super League, alongside former New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum, who returns to the county to play T20 cricket in July, and there were club stints in Australia and New Zealand for the likes of Stevie Eskinazi, James Harris, Harry Podmore and Ryan Higgins.
Eoin Morgan, of course, spent much of the winter captaining England’s 50-over and T20 teams while fast bowler Steven Finn also figured in senior England squads. Middlesex, whose title win was their first Championship triumph since 1993, clearly have talent aplenty plus strength in depth.
“There were often so many players involved in cricket worldwide that on some weeks we only had about four or five at winter nets,” said Fraser. “It is obviously a very exciting time for the club and it will not be until the first week of April that we will actually get everyone together for the first time since winning the Championship last September.
“We will then start preparing for our first match, which is away at Hampshire on April 14, and I want us - as champions - to be humble but still really hungry for more success, both in four-day cricket and in the one-day competitions. It’s a great time for everyone to be involved with Middlesex Cricket.”