There is no doubt that Derbyshire will start as underdogs in their game against Lancashire Lightning tomorrow night, their first match of this season's T20.
The Lancashire captain and players are talking up winning the competition, though I'd have to say that I don't see them as being that good. They won the County Championship last summer, but have struggled this time around, batsmen scratching around for runs more than should be the case.
As a T20 side they seem to me to depend on a good start. If Stephen Moore gets them off to a flyer they could trouble any side and with key overseas men in Ashwell Prince and Yasir Arafat in the side they don't lack experience. Key to their cricket last year, especially in the T20, was the bowling of three spinners, Kerrigan, Gary Keedy and Stephen Parry, taking the pace off the ball and controlling the middle part of the opposition innings.
In some ways their side replicates Leicestershire's success last year, not overly blessed with household names but with a strong team ethic. The Foxes look unlikely to replicate last summer's success after an embarrassing performance against Nottinghamshire last night, a game in which they barely got out of the traps. Nottinghamshire will start favourites in the group,a disciplined bowling side and powerful batting line-up making them (sadly) a good pre-tournament bet.
Yorkshire could do better than of late if their bowlers can keep the opposition within range of a powerful batting side. I was surprised, however, to see them recruit South African David Miller as their second overseas player. He's a fair player with something to prove after a disappointing competition with Durham last year, but for me there is little wrong with their batting and a good player will therefore miss out. Mitchell Starc has made a good early impression, but I'm not convinced their support bowling is good enough to get through the group.
Durham? They have also recruited well in Herschelle Gibbs, a player somewhat revitalised after good showings in the Big Bash and the IPL. Having said that, he has seldom shown that form here and will need to do so. The county have good players, but again in recent summers the constituent parts haven't made a cohesive whole. There are plenty of big hitting batsmen in the line-up and, like Yorkshire, will depend on the bowlers keeping the opposition within range. They will miss Paul Collingwood, however, as much for his accurate bowling as his less reliable (these days) batting.
Which leaves us with Derbyshire, of course. I think we will do OK and I fully expect us to compete in every game, but I don't see us progressing through a pretty strong group. Of course I hope that I'm wrong and that the side pulls together as we know it can, but my sadly negative prediction is for a bottom three finish in this section.
How can they prove me wrong? By batting sensibly and not like, as we have often done in this competition, shoppers being told there's five minutes to closing time on Christmas Eve. A good start helps and if we are chasing, for example, 160 to win there is no need for slogs in the Powerplay, just proper cricket shots that take advantage of the fielding restrictions.
If we had Martin Guptill at the top of the order, you could reasonably expect, after 5 overs of him on a good day, to be around 50. Will Chesney Hughes, short on runs and confidence this summer and Usman Khawaja, unproven in this form of the game, give us that kind of impetus? I don't know the answer to that one. If they do, we will compete and win a few, but if we end up 28-3 by the end of the Powerplay we will have our struggles, much as our near neighbours did last night.
We have enough depth in batting to post a decent score most times, but emerging from this group will need more than that, scores that are usually given good foundations by a fast start. I think we have good enough bowlers to contain all but a good batsman in prime form and our fielding should stand up against anyone, but again, we need batsmen to show some nous when chasing targets. That will determine our fate as far as I'm concerned.
If Rana Naved can produce the form he has shown for other sides around the world in this form of cricket we will be in the mix, especially if we allow time for his explosive batting to have an impact. If the top order does its stuff, Naved, Whiteley and Redfern at 5,6,7 should see decent use made of the closing overs.
As for me, I will miss much of it. At the end of next week my family and I head out to Tennessee once more for our son's 21st birthday celebrations, a trip that will see us take in the delights of Memphis and Nashville, as well as several places round about in a 17-day trip. I can't say that my holiday will be ruined by poor performances, but I do hope to check in for scores and see us having battled throughout.
At the end of it all, as I've said before, with a young and embryonic squad you cannot ask for more than that.