When assessing the likelihood of a successful season for Derbyshire, one first has to look at the opposition and see what we are up against. In another piece I will look at Derbyshire, but today I would like to look at the other teams in the division.
Truth be told, it is a strong league. If one were assessing clubs merely on size, then we would be perennial also-rans. The likes of Essex, Surrey, Kent and Lancashire are big clubs, with big budgets. They are able to enter the bidding whenever a player comes on the market and can offer serious money to lure them to their club.
Yet the bottom line is, for all that, they are in the bottom tier, along with Derbyshire. They may have the resources, but something has to be missing. Here's my assessment of their respective strengths ahead of the season, taking them in alphabetical sequence.
Essex - they will always score runs and have a long batting order, but success depends on whether Cooke and Bopara spend a lot of time with England. The concern would be over an attack that has lost Tymal Mills and is heavily dependent on 37-year old David Masters and 35-year old Graham Napier. Last year Jesse Ryder produced some remarkable bowling figures and for me they will need more of the same from a man who has spent much of the winter injured.
"The Don" in The Cricketer magazine had them as champions, but they will need very good luck with injury to be in the frame, unless Monty Panesar can rekindle erstwhile glories and Masters has one last golden summer.
Glamorgan - new skipper Jacques Rudolph will need to score a lot of runs, alongside Kolpak signing Colin Ingram, to give them a chance. There are early season question marks over the fitness of Michael Hogan and the loss of Jim Allenby will hit them hard. The loan signing of Craig Meschede for the summer will help, but they are another side who seem short of bowling, already supposedly looking at the loan market.
Graham Wagg will need to play at his best to offset the loss of other key players and I see them as a side in transition.
As are Gloucestershire. Having lost both Will and Alex Gidman, much will depend on Geraint Jones as the new skipper, along with Michael Klinger. Peter Handscomb, an Australian batsman on a UK passport, is an interesting signing, as is Kiwi all-rounder Kieran Noema-Barnett, on similar terms. I'm not really a fan of such a 'league of nations' approach, though some jewels can be discovered, as we found with Wayne Madsen. I suspect they will have a tough season though.
Kent appear to tie invisible bungee rope to their players when they leave, as, like boomerangs, all come back. Joe Denly, Matt Coles, James Tredwell - they have all gone under various arrangements and returned. They strike me as a team likely to challenge, but their seam attack isn't the strongest and I wonder how long the reliable Darren Stevens can keep going. They won't lack for runs and will be a threat in a run chase, but I struggle to see them bowling sides out twice on a regular basis.
The lack of an overseas player may be a deciding issue for them.
Lancashire look our closest rivals and have a strong squad. They have picked up Nathan Buck from Leicestershire and the talented but inconsistent George Edwards from Surrey, but now need an overseas player to start the season, as Peter Siddle is in the Australian Ashes tour party. They already have Alviro Petersen and Ashwell Prince as Kolpaks, so the red rose county aren't going whole-heartedly local.
Seam bowling depth could be their undoing though and the loss of Kyle Hogg and Glen Chapple, the latter to semi-retirement, will be a tough act to follow. Expect plenty of turning tracks for Simon Kerrigan...
I can't see anything but struggle for Leicestershire. Cobb, Thakor, Buck, Smith and Ireland have all gone, the latter a decent one-day bowler as we often found. Clint McKay is an experienced opening bowler and Mark Cosgrove will punch his weight (insert your own jokes...) as opening bat and skipper, but Andrew McDonald will earn his money as coach in what looks likely to be a tough season for them, on and off the field.
It has been a winter of change for Northamptonshire. The side will have a different look, with Andrew Hall and David Sales gone, along with James Middlebrook and James Kettleborough, but they have recruited well.
Rory Kleinveldt could be a good signing as opening bowler, while Josh Cobb needs only runs at first-class level to be deemed the player of ability we all know he is from one-day cricket. He and Richard Levi (another Kolpak) will make a good one-day opening pair, while the return to fitness of David Willey and Alex Wakely will make them a decent side.
I expect them to challenge, but lack of depth in bowling could be an issue for them too if injuries hit.
Why are Surrey in division two? They make more marquee signings than the bloke who arranges the Queen's garden parties, yet somehow the sum of the parts never equals 'team'. With Kumar Sangakkara and Kevin Pietersen in the batting, alongside Jason Roy, Rory Burns and Steven Davies, they should score a bucketful of runs. Ben Foakes has signed from Essex and David Balcombe from Hampshire, but the crucial factor will once again be team spirit.
That's a commodity they have lacked in recent seasons and if they can discover it, they should stroll the division. Then again, they should have done that in recent summers with other big names.
There or thereabouts, but Graham Ford as coach is probably the key man.
Biggest rivals for Derbyshire, if we produce the goods? Surrey, Lancashire and Northamptonshire.
Wooden spoon? Leicestershire or Glamorgan.
Over to you...what do you think?