Next season’s fixtures cannot come soon enough for newly-promoted Middlesex, whose hungry young squad reported back for pre-Christmas winter conditioning as early as November 7.
Back in the day when Angus Fraser was merely an up-and-coming club seamer, rank and file county cricketers often enjoyed a three-month winter break from the game, sometimes longer. Having usually enjoyed the festive season to the full, they reported back in the spring with weight aplenty to be lost.
This dilatory approach to pre-season fitness had become the generally accepted norm for most county cricketers, indeed, and it prevailed right through until the ‘noughties’. But clearly it won’t be happening on Fraser’s watch.
Nowadays, as director of cricket at Middlesex, the 46-year-old former England seamer confirmed this week, and possibly with a sense of pride, that his Middlesex wards were already fit as fiddles and looking forward to a 2012 campaign in the County Championship’s top flight.
Fraser said: “When I took over in 2010/2011 I gave the team a ‘three-line whip’ to get back to training well before Christmas, but this year they’ve led the situation themselves, to be honest. The 13 or so lads still in this country reported back in the first week in November and have already been working in the indoor school for over a fortnight.
“Most counties operate this way these days and for several good reasons. First and foremost, we do it so that the players retain a good level of fitness all winter. Then, when you crank up the work from January onwards, they can concentrate on honing their skills rather than simply getting themselves back into condition.
“It’s also good because the lads get to work with each other throughout the winter, which I feel helps create a better spirit among the squad.”
While his side have been working up a sweat in the indoor school, Fraser has been busy in the club office at Lord’s masterminding the county’s team re-building plans.
Since securing the Division Two title three players have left St John’s Wood – Jamie Dalrymple, Dan Housego and Ben Scott. On the flip side, Ollie Rayner (Sussex) and Joe Denly (Kent) have joined.
Five others have signed new deals, while two more are to be offered contract extensions before the action begins in earnest on April 5 next year. Fraser also confirmed he would be looking for an impact player from overseas to strengthen his hand come the start of the Friends Life t20 competition in June next year.
“We’ll have a think about t20 later in the New Year, but as for the rest of the squad I think we’ll be as we are now. Once Jamie Dalrymple said he was no longer going to be with us we’ve bought in Rayner and Denly, Ollie for his all-round abilities and Joe to bolster our senior batting.
“Ok, when there’s no Test match cricket we do get Andrew Strauss and Eoin Morgan back, but it’ll be ideal to have Joe around – who is after all a potential international cricketer in his own right – to strengthen and create competition for places. These lads can only add to what we’re trying to achieve here.
“It will be good to have a settled squad to work with now, not just for a few months but for a couple or three seasons. In recent times players have been happy to stay on short-term contracts and back themselves, but with less money floating around in the game these days it’s nice that a number of players, who I rate highly, have committed themselves to us long-term.”