Just over a week to go until Derbyshire start their 2011 Championship campaign and fans, like those of all counties, will be looking at the prospects of their favourites and dreaming.
As for me, I am quietly confident that the county can put the off-field stuff behind them and produce a steady campaign. I'll not predict the spectacular as I've been there before and regretted it (about 25 times!) but I think that John Morris has put together a good squad that should produce some solid cricket, especially in the four-day format.
I've written before that we have a number of wicket-taking bowlers and that is the case. Footitt, Groenewald, Palladino, Turner and Clare all have good reputations in this area, if not so much at always keeping things quiet in the one-day form of the game. How many play will, of course, depend on the wicket and the improvement the winter has brought in Jake Needham. Atif Sheikh may also come to the fore and we should not lack for bowling strength this year. They've all worked hard with Steffan Jones and the fitness coach over the winter and should reap rewards for that hard work.
I think we all like to see a balanced attack and the presence of Jon Clare means that we can effectively field an all-rounder at eight. Greg Smith's role will also be important and I'm intrigued as to how his season will pan out. Is he a batsman who bowls spin, or a batsman who bowls medium pace? Or is he a bowler who does a bit of batting? The demands of the current game make it very difficult for a player to excel in all areas and Smith's game suffered last year from having to do, or trying to do too much. Will speculation over his future affect him, positively or negatively? Few would deny that at his best he is a fine player. If he can produce regularly, we're likely to do well.
I don't see him batting higher than five or six though, which gives him a decent chance, while Wes Durston could do a little of the spin duties if he cements a place in the batting line-up.
If anything, the batting is perhaps the most likely cause for concern. I'd be fairly confident of good runs from Wayne Madsen, but his likely opening partners are likely to be either Paul Borrington or Chesney Hughes at the start of the season and both have things to prove. Can Bozza combine occupation of the crease with punishment of the bad ball to keep the score moving? Can Chesney overcome second season syndrome when bowlers will know him better? He is a fine talent, but all cricketers have their good and bad times. Good starts make such a difference to teams and if we can get a settled pairing it would bode well.
Then there's the rest. Garry Park went back last year, but is surely too good a player to stay struggling, while Wes Durston needs to score the runs we have seen in one day cricket in the Championship, where an average in the early 20's from a man of his experience (and ability) is under-achieving.
There are other questions. Can Matt Lineker emerge from the local leagues and score heavily in the first-class game. Put another way and taking things in stages, can he force his way into the team first? Most of all, can Dan Redfern show us that the best young batsman to emerge in Derbyshire cricket since Kim Barnett is alive and well, ready to score the runs that his talent suggests?
In the words of the old song, there are more questions than answers and how many of the players prove themselves will dictate our fortunes for 2011.
Two final points about the Championship campaign. We have two gifted overseas batsmen coming in. Will they take to English domestic cricket like a duck to water, or struggle on wickets that often offer more assistance than they are used to? Their respective abilities again suggest they can and will do, but until the action starts we won't know. Martin Guptill is likely to enjoy later season wickets, but key to our success will be the way that Usman Khawaja adapts his game to early season English wickets. If he does, we should be flying.
Finally the new skipper. I'm thrilled we have a good, solid wicket-keeper who just happens to be a good, solid batsman. He's also a man who sets a standard and will expect them to be met every day. Luke Sutton was the first bit of business this close season and may turn out to be the most important.
If we start solidly, keep working at our game and get the rub of the green we could be in the promotion mix. Whether we do better than that will be down to enough people with reputations to build ending the season with their names enhanced. I don't know how it will go, but it should be a lot of fun in finding out!