"Anything other than promotion this year would be a failure, simple as that.” That is the unequivocal message of Middlesex chief executive Richard Goatley as he beats the drum for an instant return to English crickets top flight.
Imagine his deflation then as Middlesex succumbed to a 101-run defeat on Monday, despite a spirited second-innings fightback with the bat, against a Derbyshire team who had not won a County Championship match at home for four years.
The ignominy of that setback followed a potentially tone-setting rout of Northamptonshire at Lords during the opening round of fixtures as Middlesex began acclimatising to their new, less salubrious, Division Two surroundings.
It is all a far cry from 12 months ago, when they were embarking on the new campaign as the defending English champions having won their first red-ball title since 1993 the previous September.
Sam Robson captained Middlesex to victory over Northamptonshire during the opening round of County Championship fixtures (Source: Getty)
“Its horrible. Sport is a performance business and you are judged on your results and I would say I am sick of Division Two already,” adds Goatley, a chartered accountant who was promoted to his role of chief executive in October 2015.
“The clear focus of the club is to get out of the division as quickly as possible but that is only going to happen with a lot of hard work and a lot of respect for the opposition and the division. As soon as we start feeling sorry for ourselves and feeling that we shouldnt be there, thats when we will definitely come a cropper.”
Goatley also has the clubs off-field agenda to safeguard and remains confident that, initially at least, demotion will not be detrimental to revenue streams.
“Short term, I dont think there is any impact at all,” says Goatley, who believes county cricket is in far ruder health than it looks.
“We have got some really good sponsors who understand there is quite a bit of flux, two going down out of a division of eight. However, I think if we stayed in Division Two for an extended period then that would cost us commercial income.”
Goatley believes Lord's could play host to the best county side in the country (Source: Getty)
Middlesexs wider financial outlook is framed by them lacking a ground of their own and having to rent Lords from the Marylebone Cricket Club. They are debt-free as they have not spent millions on improving and upgrading facilities, but also all the more dependent on on-field success.
“We dont have a ground so we are a pure cricket club and are not there to generate funds, so I see our cricket performance as being pivotal to everything we do,” said Goatley.
“Our ambitions are to be the best club in the country and long term I think that is achievable with the ground, opportunities and the players and coaches weve got. We should be an outstanding cricket side; thats clearly an objective.”
English cricket is still digesting last weeks proposals for the new city-based tournament, scheduled to begin in 2020, which will adopt a new 100-balls-per-innings format.
Middlesex, alongside Essex, opposed its introduction. Speaking before full details of the new scheme emerged, Goatley said: “I dont think that anyone would be being particularly clever in suggesting that English cricket didnt need a bigger, more high-profile T20 tournament.
Toby Roland-Jones took the decisive wicket as Middlesex were crowned champions in 2016 (Source: Getty)
“I happen to think we could do it in a different way, but largely were in a position now where were thinking this is happening.
“Counties have voted for it – we havent but others have – and its now our job to make a success of it. It doesnt do anyone any good if it fails. Its there for us to make the best of it and make sure it flies.”
Cricket bosses hope the new tournament will attract a new, younger audience and rival other global events, in particular Twenty20 powerhouses the Big Bash and the Indian Premier League (IPL).
The English season began with heightened concerns over the IPL plundering replacement players at the 11th hour – Yorkshires David Willey being a case in point – and disrupting clubs preparations.
That revived the thorny issue of compensation. Currently, players pay their counties one per cent of their annual salary for each day they are at the IPL for the first 21 days, and 0.7 per cent thereafter.
The view remains that the IPL itself should pay more to compensate counties, and that counties should receive a proportion of the payment paid to the ECB by the IPL for each player in the competition.
“Clearly your county salary cannot be your payer of last resort, whereas if you cant get a deal elsewhere you end up getting paid by your county,” adds Goatley.
“Compensation needs to change significantly to make sure counties are rewarded for bringing players through.
“But also where they have got a player who is in and out of international cricket and global T20 tournaments, clearly we need a percentage of their salary paid for and that needs to be fair.”