MIDDLESEX must up the ante if they are to win the club’s first County Championship title since 1993 in the next four years.

That was the challenge laid down to his players by director of cricket Angus Fraser as the 2013 season got underway this week with a visit to Nottinghamshire.

Fraser’s men finished a magnificent third last season, their first back in Division One since 2006. However, Fraser feels his side snuck in under the radar 12 months ago and must go on improving if they are to produce the consistency which leads to silverware.

“We expect more of ourselves that’s for sure,” he said. “We need to improve because we probably caught a few people by surprise last year, so they will be better prepared for what we have got to offer.

“Our objective is to establish ourselves as one of the top four clubs in the country.

“If we could finish in the top four for the next four years, one, you would be happy with that and, two, I would imagine in one of those four years we would push through and actually win it.”

Fraser did little wheeling and dealing over the winter with England Performance squad seamer James Harris his only recruit, while Steven Crook left for Northants.

While he would have preferred to keep the man he always referred to as his ‘joker in the pack’, Fraser insists his team are stronger for the challenges ahead.

“I’m not denigrating Steven Crook, because he is a cracking lad, but James Harris is a better cricketer,” he said.

“The reason behind James was we had thought for the last few years we were going to get something from Steven Finn, but you reach the stage where you think we are not going to get much from him now, as he’s disappeared into the sunset with England.

“James is a very good cricketer and I don’t just mean with the ball. I think he will offer us quite a bit with the bat as well.”

Middlesex have prepared the hard way, sometimes in sub-zero temperatures under their Eden Project, as Fraser affectionately tags their bubble of a marquee at Radlett.

The former England quick bowler hopes going boot camp style and forsaking winter sun in the West Indies will give them a head start, as well as taking pressure off the club’s funds.

He added: “There are two reasons why you go under the bubble – firstly to practise in English-style conditions because it won’t be pleasant out there on Wednesday.

“Hopefully, players will get used to that and to the way the bat feels on the ball, which is different to Barbados or Dubai and places like that.

“The other reason is financial. The marquee costs us between £14,000 and £17,000, while a 
pre-season tour to Barbados for 10 days can cost up to £45,000, and that saving makes money available for another player on your staff.”