With only a month to go before the season starts, there can't be many cricket fans who aren't feeling excited right now. Depending on your age and penchant, you will soon be dusting down the deckchairs, checking that mice haven't lodged in the picnic basket over the winter months and that your replica club sweater still fits. Then comes that moment when you realise that the team name or colours have changed over the winter and you're going to have to buy a new baseball cap, shirt and the other ephemera that is part of being a cricket fan.
There may or may not be any more players at Derbyshire (though I still keep fingers crossed for a seamer) but I remain convinced that we are in good shape, perhaps the best we have been in some years. Yes, I'll accept that we are packed with inexperience and that will undoubtedly cost us on occasion in the season ahead, but we will be playing aggressive, attacking cricket - that's the message coming from Wayne Madsen, our new skipper.
Madsen isn't daft though. In his interviews he is sensibly clarifying that there will be times when as a side you need to dig in and grit it out. There will be times when he, as captain, will need to look to stem the flow of runs and frustrate players out. There might be a lot of those situations, depending on how the switch from the Tiflex ball works for his bowlers, but that is where you see the side that has the genuine team spirit.
For Derbyshire to do well this year, every single member of the eleven that takes the field has to be giving one hundred per cent in every game. This is a team without a world-ranked star - and I mean no offence to Messrs Guptill, Khawaja or Naved in saying that - but with a young squad of players who share a common goal. I'm thinking back to when Somerset had Garner and Richards, not to mention Botham. The other players could sometimes coast in the knowledge that these players would usually bail them out. Likewise when the likes of Mike Procter, Barry Richards, Clive Lloyd and Michael Holding could be lured to the county game, as it kept their money coming in. These men were genuine giants of the world game.
What we have at Derbyshire - and at the other counties today - are very good players who are not quite yet at the pinnacle of their profession. Guptill could well be there in the next couple of years, Khawaja has the ability to do so if he kicks on in the same period, while Naved is now retired from international cricket but is still a very fine cricketer, one that we are very fortunate to have.
Yet the fact that the players have things to prove works very much in Derbyshire's favour. The history of the county game over the past 40-50 years is equally littered with the names of those who came with big reputations that were not substantiated and those who often went through the motions unless the cameras were around.
I think that Wayne Madsen has got the Derbyshire captaincy at exactly the right time. First of all, he has inherited a good dressing room from Luke Sutton and has an excellent coach and man manager in Karl Krikken to work with. That is crucial because there are more than a few clubs who appear to have a divisive element if what one reads in the media is correct. Such an environment is fine in a winning team, but when it all goes pear-shaped things can go horribly wrong and recriminations can be damaging.
Secondly Madsen has some very good young players to work with, as well as some canny senior heads. Messrs Durston, Groenewald and Palladino will be important to him when the action starts, players who have been in different match situations yet are still young and hungry enough to be prepared to battle when the need arises.
Thirdly, Madsen himself is now a man of the county. He moved to Derbyshire when John Morris picked him up from a successful league career and he and his wife are now settled in the area, his wife having built up a successful sports coaching business. He feels happy at the club and is liked and appreciated by his team mates and members alike. His form suffered a dip last season, but Madsen is too good a player for such a dip to be anything other than temporary. Indeed, by season end he was back to his best and reeled off successive scores of 45, 28, 50 and 64 in the one-day games in which he captained the side, suggesting that captaincy didn't affect his game in any way but positively.
His first decision will be important; where he bats in the order. There are merits in both his opening and in his going in at number four, but for me his dropping down allows us to assess the merits of Paul Borrington and Matt Lineker, at least in the Championship. Both have been extraordinarily prolific in local cricket and this is the time for one - or both - to show that they can cut it at a higher standard. The only way we will know the answer to that is if they get the opportunity to do so. With the places of Durston, Madsen, Redfern and Whiteley relatively secure (at least for me) and Guptill or Khawaja taking another berth, Bozza, Lineker and Chesney Hughes are effectively in competition for one place, which introduces a little pressure to perform on a regular basis.
Wayne Madsen is the second South African-born captain in Derbyshire's history. Given the first was the remarkable Eddie Barlow he has a tough act to follow. Yet he starts with a better, fitter and younger squad than that inherited by Barlow and has an opportunity to make his own place in the club's history.
I'm sure we all wish him well and while I'm not going to burden him with the expectation of a trophy in his first season, I'm confident that fans will enjoy Derbyshire cricket under Wayne Madsen.
Good times lie ahead, my friends.
PS For those who will argue the merits of Barlow's side: yes, I know we had Miller, Hendrick and Taylor but the first two were young and untried pre-Barlow and in danger of failing to progress. Bob Taylor was a great wicket-keeper but apart from him we had too many old, unfit senior players and young untried kids. I feel confident in my assertion that the current crop of youngsters are genuinely exciting and can start an era of success in Derbyshire cricket.