For all us Middlesex fans, it's that time of year again where we just dare to dream. Could this be the year? Could this be the year where the inconsistencies are ironed out, and the promise and potential are realised on the pitch? Could this be the year where the luck turns, or where someone makes thousands of runs or takes hundreds of wickets?
This is almost what makes being a Middlesex fan as disappointing as it inevitably is. There is always so much promise and potential, but this is rarely realised. Other than the 2008 T20 win, Middlesex have consistently underperformed for the past however long, and should have been doing much better. The team is always strong on paper, but fail to meet expectations on the pitch.
This year, like all of the other years, is no different. Looking at Middlesex's squad, there are some very talented players. There are the international stars in Strauss, Morgan, Finn and Stirling, as well as those who have proven their abilities as top county players in Murtagh, Rogers, Dexter and Malan. On top of that are the emerging young talents such as Roland-Jones, Housego and Simpson, which all should bode well. However, as we know, this is rarely the case.
While Finn may play more this year than last, the likely promotion of Morgan to the test side means he will join Strauss in only featuring fleetingly for Middlesex. And inconsistencies and injuries mean that the team is often being dragged along by a couple of individuals rather than performing as more than the sum of its parts.
So that's the doom and gloom out of the way. And now to the most dangerous part of being a Middlesex supporter - the hope. This team could be brilliant. Malan and Dexter had superb seasons last year and will be mainstays of the batting order with Newman, who finished very strongly. Add to the mix Chris Rogers, who averages over 51 in FC cricket, and Jamie Dalrymple when available, this batting line up will be incredibly strong even without Strauss and Morgan. Further down the list will be John Simpson, who keeps growing as a cricketer both with bat and behind the stumps; Gareth Berg, who is able to play as either a batsman or a bowler, and his all-round abilities adds a lot to the team, and Dan Housego, who is just waiting for that breakthrough season which could well be this one.
The bowling is equally as strong. While O'Brien and Collins have had to depart thanks to the ECB's regulations, the additions of Ireland and Collymore more than makes up for the losses. Tim Murtagh has taken millions of wickets over the past few years, and while he was quiet last time, his pre-season form suggests a wicket heavy summer. And as Steve Finn is no longer in the test team, he'll be available far more often this year, and the prospect of facing him will have many Division Two batsmen shaking in fear. Spin is probably the side's weakest point, but Ollie Rayner is around for a few months from Sussex, and Tom Smith performed capably when required last term.
A Middlesex fan can never get too far ahead of himself, as history suggests that another inevitable season of disappointment will follow. But with a quiet but effective captain in Dexter, plus a side who do look very strong, there's a feeling that maybe, just maybe, this could be THE year.