Anyone who has read this blog for any length of time - even since pre-season - will know that I fancied a promotion challenge this year in the Championship and that one of the essentials is a good start. That being the case, Derbyshire's season could hardly have started off better.
I'm not going to get carried away. The season is as much about what we do in the next 14 games as what we did in the last two, but those two have created an impetus that is of inestimable value to any side. What we have shown in spades is that there are bucketfuls of character in the side, people who are prepared to graft when things aren't in their favour.
Examples? At Derby on day two, Northamptonshire's approach fell only short of digging trenches across the wicket and hanging a flag from the pavilion saying "We're only here for a draw". Derbyshire's response was to maintain focus and bowl with discipline and control. It would have been very easy to relax and think "this one's going nowhere". To their credit, that didn't happen.
In Cardiff, it was the batsmen's turn. Four of the top five longest innings in the match on an awkward track were by Derbyshire players. I was mildly amused by a comment on the Forum when someone suggested that our batting has been disappointing this year. I think that goes for most counties to be honest and that's what you get when you play cricket this early. If you've never done it. facing a new ball on wickets offering lateral movement and variable bounce is a total lottery and you need luck, as well as considerable technique and skill, to survive.
It augurs well. One has only to watch the celebrations in the footage from the games to see how close the team are too. As the season wears on and players form ebbs and flows a strong dressing room will be important as the players act as a mutual support unit. Minor contributions can play a part in the team success and the side will undoubtedly celebrate as one.
There are a few days to recharge the batteries now before the East Midlands derby against Leicestershire at the County Ground. I'm not sure when this match was last played with Derbyshire top of the table, but would wager it hasn't been recently. There don't appear to be any injuries sustained from Cardiff, unless Jon Clare pulled a facial muscle smiling so much after seeing his bowling figures...
If Tim Groenewald is fit again, it is decision time. Does Krikk bring him back, or does he keep in the variation of Footitt who bowled well but with no real reward in Wales. What Footitt does is offer variety, of course and the additional pace and different angle is a major benefit, for him and for David Wainwright, who is fully equipped to take advantage of the footmarks he creates outside the off stump of right hand batsmen.
Last night I looked down that Derbyshire team and we have a good top four who can make a lot of runs. From nine to eleven we have a talented young keeper and options for two penetrative opening bowlers who will challenge any team, given the slightest encouragement.
From five through to eight we have four players who could feasibly all gain England Lions selection in the near future, no doubt about it. Redfern is a class act who at Derby looked a genuine international quality player. The time he has, coupled with the range of shots, makes him a real asset to the side and I could see him challenging the thousand run barrier this season.
Whiteley just looks better each time I see him, and whether playing sedately or clumping it brings so much to the side. A brilliant fielder and increasingly useful bowler, in a fair world a winter tour beckons if he continues in such form. Wainwright is a genuine all-rounder whose gritty batting adds value to his probing spin and ballast to any side, while Clare bowls at good pace and hits a ball as hard as anyone in the game.
It is some time since Derbyshire had such players in the side and is another marker in the progress of the team and the club.
They won't be the last either. You can be sure of that.