The end of the season is always time for reflection and this year certainly has plenty for Derbyshire's board to look at.
A summer that started, if not with confidence of improved fortunes then with at least optimism of it, dissipated way too quickly for most tastes. Within a couple of games of the season starting, it became obvious that our attack would struggle to bowl teams out in a four-day match, especially on wickets that were far too heavily weighted in favour of batsmen. The loss of Mark Footitt to Surrey hit us hard and, with no spinner of genuine quality and experience to call on, our sessions in the field became exercises in containment and damage limitation.
I remain convinced that we have some seam bowlers of talent at the club. Ben Cotton, Will Davis and Tom Milnes showed enough in short, sporadic bursts to suggest they could take wickets at this level, while Tom Taylor should come again, once his issue with a stress fracture in his back is sorted. Matt Critchley likewise could become a spinner of ability, but is probably several seasons from being one who will bowl sides out on a wearing pitch.
They all need time to develop the requisite skills and for their physiques to fully develop, before they can be considered even solid county performers, however. It is imperative for Derbyshire, even if we are to consider moving off the bottom of the table next year, let alone further improvement, to bring in a strike bowler of experience, together with a spinner with expectations of taking wickets. Any other signings would be a bonus and a seam bowling all rounder wouldn't go amiss either, but I have no idea of the resources available.
While factoring in close season development of young players, the reality is that the only Derbyshire players, at this stage, who could be said to be definite four-day side players for next summer right now are Slater, Godleman, Madsen, Hosein, Wilson, Thakor and Palladino. Alex Hughes could well be another, but for me there are four places 'up for grabs', with most of the bowling roles among them. As Tony Palladino's new contract includes a coaching remit, perhaps the plan is to play him on a 'horses for courses' basis and keep fingers crossed that he can pass on his skills to a new generation.
Neil Broom should be another automatic pick, but irrespective of whether he has traveled from New Zealand or not, he has to be picked on merit and form alone, not reputation. I've not included Chesney Hughes and Wes Durston, as the silence in recent weeks has only suggested, rightly or wrongly, that they won't be around either. In prime form you would take them both, but we await news and developments on that score.
Mind you, we have two batsmen/wicket keepers, both of who should be picked in either capacity...
Bringing in the right men will take patience, money and the right coach. Players at this stage, will, I think, be loathe to commit to Derbyshire until they know who they will work with and what the coaching situation really is. Its not been made clear to supporters - we know John Sadler has been nominally in charge, but Dominic Cork was involved for a while and Kim Barnett has had a watching brief. It would be useful to clarify the new structure as soon as possible so that we can get the coach situation resolved and bedded in.
I don't necessarily buy the argument that John Sadler is now associated with failure. Name me a coach in professional sport who has constant success and has never known failure and he won't have many people for company. Any such role can only be as good as the players you have available, how they perform, what they have going on in the background and what money you have to change things. There will always be those who respond to you, together with others who don't. A bit like teaching, when you think about it.
Until a role is advertised, we won't know who is interested in taking on the Derbyshire challenge, but you can bet your bottom dollar that they will have minuses, as well as pluses, on their CV.
Look at Dave Houghton. We had him at Derbyshire, where he had his critics, despite being renowned as an outstanding batting coach. We let him go, and he's now made a great success as batting coach of the county champions, Middlesex. Likewise, Steve Stubbings has done really well as Northamptonshire batting coach, despite not getting real opportunity with us. Graeme Welch is revered as a bowling coach, yet left us mid-season. There's an unattractive pattern emerging there...
I don't think we need the raft of coaches from the last structure but we do need the right man. One who knows the game and builds the kind of team spirit that Karl Krikken did and John Sadler has done. Maybe, in this process, Sadler, a lovely bloke and one who will have learned massively from a huge learning curve this summer, will come out on top. Given a winter to work with players, recruit the right people and develop the right culture, he could be the man for the role. But I'll not second guess the likely applicants, because you can't.
All I hope is that we appoint someone after a robust process, then let them get on with it as they see fit. Whether there is truth in it or not, rumours that X is having a say in matters or Y has got so and so's ear are counter-productive. If a coach has sufficient credibility to be appointed in the first place, give him his head and give him the time that is needed to turn our club around, without interference but with support available on request.
Look at Worcestershire, a good club, very well run and with Steve Rhodes the director of cricket for ten years. Also David Ripley, who has done a great job with Northamptonshire for four years. Both men are respected but needed time to impose themselves. As did Jason Gillespie at Yorkshire, who took over at a relegated club and did an extraordinary job from 2011.
For me, judging a Derbyshire coach on trophies is unrealistic. It shouldn't stop us trying for one, as Northamptonshire and Leicestershire have shown what is possible in recent years. Yet if we can get a coach who can produce a steady stream of good county cricketers, playing attractive, aggressive and positive cricket and entertaining the crowds that is a good start. Perhaps the rest will follow.
If you're out there with those credentials, there's a place waiting for you at the 3aaa County Ground.
If you're already there - then I wish you all the luck in the world in taking us on a journey that, let's face it, can really only improve from eighteenth position.