Early this morning, around 1am to be precise, family Peakfan arrived safely back in Scotland from our break in Barcelona, which was simply stunning. I don't know how many of you have been, but the endless array of leafy streets, delightful squares and fascinating shops blew me away, even if the climate left me wondering why cricket has never taken off in Spain.
A trip to Camp Nou showed how Barcelona is much more than 'just' a football team and I reckon I will present a business plan to them for a cricket club..twinned with Derbyshire CCC, of course!
Bringing me nicely back to the main focus of this blog and it was no bad week to be away, if the posts and emails I got after the Essex game were anything to go by. I saw Surrey in the county championship as the nadir of our season, but it appears we plumbed similar, if not greater depths last week.
Being two players down didn't help, but to expect Tony Palladino and Shiv Thakor to have addressed the obvious imbalance is unrealistic. Heads went down and that's not good to see, especially against a side that has hardly pulled up trees this season.
The needs for next season are obvious. Hamish Rutherford in the batting line up will help, as will Neil Broom, but for me we need another batsman, or batting all-rounder, of quality. Whether that is from this country or a Kolpak only time will tell, but there is a fine line between encouraging youth and being competitive.
The success of the under-17s, the Academy and the second team this summer illustrates that progress is being made, but the focus for many supporters will be on the first team alone. Results have not gone as we would have hoped and although injuries have hit us hard, there has been a step or two back for each one forward. In the fickle world of professional sport, Graeme Welch will be aware that next season, the last of his current deal, will need to show greater concrete proof of progress at senior level. I am not advocating change, as I have a lot of respect for him as a man and as a coach, but the pressures in professional sport are evident and never go away.
The pressure on the current players is to be 10-15 per cent better next year than this. A top five of Godleman, Rutherford, Madsen, Broom and, perhaps, a Kolpak should score runs. Alex Hughes and Shiv Thakor will give balance with bat and ball, but all of our young players need to show more frequently that they have what it takes to succeed at top level. Conversely, the senior players need to step up to the plate more often too for us to succeed.
Take the wicket-keeping role. Both Tom Poynton and Harvey Hosein have kept wicket steadily this year, but neither has grabbed the role. Both have had their challenges, but the reality is that we need more runs from one of them to see them as long-term options. It is unrealistic to expect a lad of Hosein's age to score these, perhaps as much as to expect the same of Tom Poynton after a year out, but the bottom line is that we need more runs from that position, whoever fills it, next year. One has only to look at what someone like Niall O'Brien gives to Leicestershire to see what we need from that role.
There is work ahead, but the onus is on all of them to produce the goods. For some, next season will either be the start of a special career, or the end of their dalliance with one in the professional game. Much will depend on their winter work and their individual progress.
It isn't as simple, however, as going out to spend big money, because we don't have that. To retain the best performing players, young and older, we need to look after them financially, but each will be aware that they need to justify the salaries or become expendable, just as happens every season when the retained lists are published.
In closing tonight, I have been asked in several emails if I saw us moving for either Monty Panesar or Greg Smith from Essex, the latter a former County Ground player, of course. My answer is no.
Sadly, neither has the recent statistics to suggest that they would enhance the squad, with Greg, a good cricketer who enjoyed some special days, being the latest to confirm that the grass isn't always greener elsewhere.
Sometimes it is much better to be a bigger fish in a smaller pool, rather than trying to swim with all the other big ones...