Over the course of the winter, I have been asked many times for my thoughts on team selection for the coming summer. Whether T20, fifty overs or four-day cricket, I have given my eleven, quite happily, when asked.
However, it s nowhere near that straight forward.
It is all very well basing a notional team on reputation and first-class average, but if that is all it went by, young players would never break into a first-class side. Rather it is based on form, attitude, state of mind and potential.
As David commented below my last piece, he and I were only one player apart in our notional one-day side (great minds, and all that...) but neither of us, no more than anyone else outside the club, know how the winter has gone for a fine array of young talent.
One assumes that a hard winter in the gym and nets has seen younger players develop their games, both mentally and technically. Just a couple of weeks ago I watched a video of Charlie Mcdonnell batting in the nets with a stump and looking pretty impressive. Truth be told, I would envy such timing with a willow in my hands, let alone something considerably smaller.
No one yet has mentioned him in notional first choice sides, yet his potential is considerable. It may be that he has developed better than others over the winter and in the eyes of those that matter has leapfrogged a few more senior rivals for a place in the batting line-up. The same goes for Greg Cork, for who this summer is so important.
Greg is a very useful left-arm seamer who swings it at reasonable pace and is also a batsman with an excellent technique. Perhaps this summer is last chance saloon at this level, because Luis Reece, a player of similar skills, has come across from Lancashire with good reputation. Yet that may be the catalyst for Greg to burst forth and prosper. We just don't know, but can only hope.
Then there's Ben Cotton and Tom Taylor. The emergence of Will Davis, last season's form for Tom Milnes and the signing of Hardus Viljoen would appear to have pushed them further down the pecking order. Yet it may not be so.
Taylor suffered a stress fracture of the back last summer and has doubtless amended his action as a result. That may be to his detriment, or he may emerge as an even better prospect than the one who did well two summers back. A frustrating tendency to bowl a bad ball an over needs work, as does his showing obvious frustration when things are going badly. Yet these are things he may have worked on, along with a trudge back to his bowling mark that at times has cost us in over rate. That he is a talent is undeniable and this may be his breakthrough year.
The same goes for Cotton, a genial giant who has so far shown an excellent ability in bowling the lines and lengths to keep batsmen quiet, yet less so in getting them out when they don't have to play the forcing shots. Again, maybe this is something he has improved and he looks impressive and a handful in the net footage we have been shown. I hope that he doesn't become a casualty of the signing of Matt Henry, because Cotts is a very good T20 bowler in his own right.
Then there's Alex Hughes.
Unless John Wright comes over from India and has Martin Guptill in his suitcase, I see Alex as the T20 captain. He did well on limited opportunity last summer and, as an intelligent lad who thinks about his game, he sets good fields and doesn't fall into the trap of changing bowlers to a formula.
He did a good job batting three last summer, but will, I think, need to use T20 and the RLODC to break into the first choice four-day side. He is another of sound technique, a good range of shots and the ability to add crucial runs in the closing overs of a one-day game. He is like a greyhound between the wickets, is a fine fielder in the key positions and can bowl a tight spell and get good players out. He also remains the only player I have seen bowl an over with cotton wool stuffed up his nose after a nose bleed...
I like Alex and he is a busy cricketer, my kind of player. Like all the others, he may not appear in many notional first choice elevens on paper, but discount him - and them - at your peril.
If they have the right attitude, work at their game and take the opportunities when they come, they will force a way into the side. Players pick up injuries, lose form or need a rest and the challenge for all is to step in and make themselves impossible to drop.
That's why I think Tom Wood has a lot to offer and why I 'banged the drum' about him last summer. Here is a lad who went away to Australia to work on his game, scored a load of runs and put himself in the shop window with the Unicorns on his return.
He scored runs again, was given a second team chance at Derbyshire and was top scorer for them last summer. While his forte appears to be the shorter forms, a double century and century in a handful of longer-form innings confirmed his versatility.
What critics of our winter signings miss is the value of the likes of Hardus Viljoen, Daryn Smit and Imran Tahir to these young players. If they can help them add another ten per cent to their game with advice on technique and mindset, their long-term value to the club will be far in excess of their feats on the cricket field.
And of course, if these players are scoring heavily and taking wickets in the second team but still not forcing a way through, they will need to be patient. The only way that will happen is if we are doing well, something we all hope for.
Time will tell.