Back at the end of July - yes, as recently as that - you would have got few takers, at even the best offered odds, on Derbyshire playing cricket in division one of the county championship next year.
Arguably the lowest point of the season had been reached, as the side were demolished by Yorkshire at Chesterfield. The white rose county racked up 617-5 as Derbyshire's bowlers, with the notable exception of debutant Peter Burgoyne, struggled to maintain line and length and were punished on a small ground with a fast outfield.
Our batting was little better, although a brave innings by Tom Poynton extended the first innings while a century of brilliance by Wayne Madsen gave us an element of respectability in the second, before we slid to an ignominious defeat inside three days. At that stage, we had drawn three and lost seven of our ten games. Relegation appeared to be a formality, as we appeared short on fight, luck and talent. Our overseas player was injured too. Nothing was going right.
So what happened?
A month later, we have beaten two of the best three teams in the country by some distance, probably should have beaten one of our relegation rivals and then disposed of the other. In sixteen days of cricket we have seen a reprise of the aggressive, fearless displays of 2012. Some may disagree with the word 'aggressive' but I don't interpret it in its widest sense. You don't have to play silly shots and score at five an over to be aggressive. Sometimes you just have to make it clear that you're not going to step back, or fold under pressure. The opposition comes at you hard and you give it back with interest. We've started to do that. Maybe that dressing room song should change to Tom Petty's I Won't Back Down...
A change of personnel has helped and Karl Krikken made it clear at the end of that Yorkshire game that he was unimpressed by some of the body language he had seen from the side. As a player, Krikken was someone who you knew would always give 100%. As a coach he does the same, but from the sidelines, pacing up and down and playing every ball with his team. He cares about his job and the club and wants to see similar passion from the team.
Shortly after that game came the news of Ross Whiteley's departure to Worcestershire. It seemed like little was going right at that time from a fan's perspective, but there was little point in the club keeping a player who didn't want to be there. Ross is a good lad, but it would be a surprise if his disenchantment at the club's refusal to allow him to go to Australia in the winter wasn't simmering in the background and being somewhat counter-productive to team spirit.
From that situation - and the laudable, decisive action taken by the club - came a new-look team, with Alex Hughes, Ben Slater and Matt Higginbottom being given runs in the side. All have done well. Hughes has played several good innings, fields very well and offers useful medium pace when the conditions favour him. Slater has emerged from largely irrelevant opportunities at number six to play some innings of high promise in the opening berth to which he is more accustomed. Higginbottom took good wickets but crucially bowled with control, something that had been sadly missing at Queens Park and on other occasions. Peter Burgoyne has batted, bowled and fielded well when required and the enthusiasm of the new boys has, I think, been a major boost for the captain.
Wayne Madsen has led with authority, performed to the very highest levels and remained an excellent figure-head for the club. It would be hard to find someone who had a bad word to say about the man and he's now got the confidence to bowl himself on occasions, a tactic that has proved more than worthwhile.
He has been helped with a rich vein of form from Tim Groenewald, while Mark Footitt has had his best season in the first-class game, having been encouraged to run in hard and bowl quickly. He's done so with increased control too and is a potent weapon for the captain. No one likes facing a bowler who can reach and exceed 90mph and when he comes in at an unusual angle (few left-armers have ever bowled at that speed) he brings variety to the attack. A fit Tony Palladino is also good to see and the captain and coach must both feel that they can match whatever is thrown at them in the field over these last two matches.
There's one other factor. Earlier in the season I noted with interest that Shivnarine Chanderpaul was often in the outfield at third man and fine leg. I assumed that this was a preference of the player, but it struck me that it was a waste of experience. A man with ten thousand Test runs and with international captaincy experience would surely have been of greater merit to the side in a more accessible position? More recently we have seen Shiv at slip, or in a short extra-cover position, where he can provide advice for the captain when needed and offer an encouraging word to the bowlers and fielders. Who wouldn't respond to a man of his reputation, especially young players? Batting with someone like Chanderpaul is what you dream of as you're growing up...getting a 'well done' from him must make you feel ten feet tall.
There have been comments - from myself and others - on the runs not being as abundant as we might have hoped, but he's hardly been a failure, just dropped from standards that most can only dream of. Yet his greater contribution may be one that to most outside the team isn't obvious.
It is commitment.
It is working on his game in the nets longer than anyone, then being happy to bowl at those who want to try and emulate him. It is in his preparation for a game, his willingness to talk cricket to young players, to pass on the knowledge of twenty years at the top. It is in his passion for excellence at the age of 39, when most are thinking of a career outside the game. It is in his touching of gloves with young players when they've played a good shot and the leaping into the arms of Tim Groenewald yesterday after he saw us to a crucial win, as well as his modesty in deflecting praise from his own performance by praising theirs. You get the impression that he cares. Yes, he will be getting well-paid for his role, but money can buy performance, not always commitment.
We may not (yet) have seen the very best of Chanderpaul the batsman from a weight of runs perspective, but his influence and attitude to the game will be something that his current young team mates can use as the basis of their own careers.
When Eddie Barlow played for us, his greatest days were behind him, but there was enough left in the tank to make fans grateful and place him on a pedestal from which he has never slipped. Go back through the year books and there were plenty of failures with the bat, but his contribution was so much more than that, on and off the field.
I suspect that much the same will happen with Shiv. In thirty years we will remember his T20 gem against Lancashire; his delightful knocks against Nottinghamshire, a classy century against Surrey and the technique that saw us to victory yesterday. We will all say to our families and friends "I saw Chanderpaul at Derbyshire". Players will say, quite proudly, "I played with him".
Who knows? Maybe the tales might even refer to a crucial knock in a game against the top side in the country, that turned the cricket world upside down and helped to make the story of the season.