Northants captain Alex Wakely is targeting promotion from Specsavers County Championship Division Two this season.
As in 2018, Northants’ opening fixture is an early test of their promotion credentials as they again play Middlesex.
The two teams will square up at the County Ground in a game that begins on Friday morning (start time 11am).
And Wakely feels his squad is good enough to compete this week and beyond.
“I stand here before a ball is bowled and say ‘we should be getting promoted’,” said Wakely.
“We want to be competitive and with the side we have there’s no reason we can’t do that.
“Our bowling attack has been excellent for a number of years now. I’m not worried about that.
"It’s about the batsmen stepping up. We want players to be scoring a thousand runs in a season.
"It does look like it’s harder and harder these days but we need at least someone to get there.”
It’s a potentially pivotal season for division two counties.
Three sides will earn promotion this year with only one relegated from division one, leading to an expanded 10-team top-tier from 2020.
Reaching division one will therefore be significantly more difficult in subsequent seasons and the danger of being marooned in the lower division lingers for some clubs.
“My target is definitely to be promoted,” said Wakely.
“I know it’s going to be hard with some big teams that everyone expects are going to fill the promotion slots but there’s no reason why we can’t turn up and beat those sides.”
Northants also hoped to mount a promotion challenge last season, only for a disastrous campaign to see them finish ninth with their lowest points total in a division two campaign.
The winter has involved a sharper focus on fitness levels and players being taken out of their comfort zones.
There are some new faces for 2019, too, with the Zimbabwean fast bowler Blessing Muzarabani already with the squad, West Indies captain Jason Holder arriving for the first five weeks of the season before South African batsman Temba Bavuma joins for the middle part of the summer.
“Last year was the most disappointing year since I’ve been involved with the club,” said Wakely. “Everything that could have gone wrong did.
"We didn’t manage to win any of the key moments in games. There are always two or three pivotal moments that decide matches - you learn how to win them.
“We got very lazy last year, very stale. The culture became easy and people weren’t challenged.
"We’ve learned from that and we’re never going to let that happen again.”