It would be a brave man who heralded the onset of the new season with a prediction of four-day silverware for Derbyshire. Last year, after all, was disappointing in terms of results and performances, with a last day failed run chase against a somewhat average Leicestershire side indicative of a side with much to do to convince supporters.
The batting was flimsy and too often dependent on Billy Godleman and Wayne Madsen, while the attack was carried, far too often, by the now-departed Mark Footitt.
So what has changed?
Well, there has been a full winter of coaching and development for starters. Graeme Welch now has a squad of his own choosing for the first time and among them has a plethora of young, seam bowling talent. Tom Taylor, Ben Cotton, Greg Cork, Will Davis and Harry White all showed potential in patches last year, though the challenge for all is to master the skills and fitness levels required to produce regular results. While it is unrealistic for one of them to step into Footitt's shoes, it is more so to expect to see signs of progress. How much they have made may dictate the progress of the side.
Welch has shrewdly brought in Andy Carter from Nottinghamshire to replace Footitt. The two have similar records on leaving Trent Bridge and the hope will be that the new man can replicate the old. That he has the talent to do so is undeniable and if James Pipe and his team can keep him on the field, he may surprise a lot of people. An aggressive, chirpy cricketer, he may be just what the side needs.
Although he played a few games at the end of last season, Tom Milnes will also add to the options available. A skiddy seamer who can bat well in the lower order, I have a feeling that Welch sees a little of himself in the player. If he develops into a 'Pop Junior' there will be few complaints.
Spin bowling will again be in the hands of Wes Durston, with support from two young all-rounders of potential. Tom Knight has barely bowled in a match since his action was re-modelled and all supporters will hope that his left arm spin is still going to be an option for us. His batting has progressed well and he is still young enough to emerge as a talent for the future. Meanwhile leg-spinner Matt Critchley burst on the scene like a meteor last year and will hope for steady progress and opportunity as the summer progresses and the drier wickets appear. A winter spell with the Lions will have boosted his confidence and his talent is undeniable.
The batting should be more robust, after last year's revolving door style of overseas recruitment was shown not to work. This year, Hamish Rutherford will hope to build on a successful late summer stint of 2015 and will have been given a boost by the award of the vice-captaincy today in all cricket. The genial and talented Kiwi has a reputation to build and a good summer could make people sit up and take notice back home.
Alongside him will be his Otago team mate and another man of international experience, Neil Broom. He comes off the back of an excellent winter back home and should bring skill and experience to that middle order. With the perenially reliable Wayne Madsen alongside him and Rutherford, we should not lack for runs this summer. New skipper Billy Godleman will lead from the front and both Ben Slater and Chesney Hughes will aim to produce the performances to open alongside him.
Further down the order, Shiv Thakor and Alex Hughes are all-rounders of huge promise but both need to produce the goods on a regular basis. Each has the ability to be a key component of Derbyshire sides for years to come, able to contribute with bat and ball, but whether a first-choice four-day side can accommodate both, especially as the summer progresses, is a moot point. For each the challenge is obvious, like for everyone else - produce the figures to make it impossible to leave you out. I am sure that Graeme Welch would prefer that kind of headache to one where he has to find players in form.
Finally there are the wicket-keepers. While both Tom Poynton and Harvey Hosein kept steadily last year, neither did so well enough, nor produced anything close to the required runs, to become an obvious number one. Good winters for each should have helped and I expect a battle royal for the gloves when the action starts.
Which leaves us where?
With only one team going up, the pressure is on and I think it unlikely that a young side is yet ready for a sustained challenge. Yet a good start sees momentum build and an undeniably strong team spirit can often be the 'X Factor' that makes a difference.
I want to see improved individual and team performances and the side is eminently capable of a top half of table finish. Beyond that, much depends on fitness and luck, both of which deserted us too often for comfort last year.
Yet these are exciting times at Derbyshire and the feeling remains that the best is yet to come.
Perhaps 2016 will be seen as the year when it all started to come together...
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