Before the first ball had been bowled in this year's T20 Blast, a few people thought that this summer might, just might, present an opportunity for Derbyshire to progress in the competition. On paper, the attack looked talented, though the batting lacked what owners of a certain make of car might call 'Va-va-voom'.
After two matches. whisper it quietly, there are signs that even the most negative of fans (and we have a few...) cannot ignore. Wayne Madsen seems to be a wild card thrown in to the power play with success, while the return of Hardus Viljoen has given us a wicket-taking threat in the crucial middle period. Teams can sometimes get off to a flyer and take games out of sight in the middle ten overs, but thus far, Viljoen and Imran Tahir have eroded and strangled opposition batting line-ups with success.
It is a funny old group, where everyone is beating everyone else. Take Leicestershire's win over Lancashire the other day, a result that surprised many. With Yorkshire and Northamptonshire rained off yesterday, there is an opportunity for to put daylight between us and the chasing pack when we play Lancashire this weekend.
The red rose county quite like turning tracks for this competition and strangling the opposition batting with Messrs Kerrigan and Parry, with other options available. They will be aware of the danger in this with Tahir in our ranks and I would expect Hamidullah Qadri to be in the squad too, as well as Matt Critchley and Wayne Madsen. That's four spin options available to Gary Wilson and, assuming they bowl well, a chance of success.
I think that 'Operation Critchley', seen at Belper the other day, will be replicated at senior level. It may not come off, but the signs were there of a hard-hitting and quick-running partnership between Matt and Ben Slater. The latter isn't a big hitter, but you don't need to hit it out of the ground to score quickly. I always use the examples of Dean Jones and Peter Kirsten, neither of them enormous hitters but both fast scorers. Why? Because their timing of the ball and placement enabled them to run twos, when others were hitting it hard to the deep field. It was encouraging to see some of the second team players doing this the other day, especially in the second game. If you can reach the end of the power play with 60 on the board and wickets in hand, the platform has been laid for the rest.
'Critch' can help us to do that and his hitting against a strong Durham attack, was eye-opening. Why not utilise a lad like that, when the field is less deep and even mishits can carry for boundaries? His batting is clearly far more than that of an agricultural slogger and I suspect it will become his stronger suit in time.
Using him there would also enable another bowling specialist to play, at this point likely to be either Qadri or Will Davis. Will bowled quickly, without really letting it slip at Belper, understandable when he has been out. I think, in time, that he will realise that he can bowl at 80% a lot of the time, then use the really quick one as a surprise weapon, rather than trying to bowl at 100 and then find something extra that his body doesn't have.
But speaking of percentages, the big change this summer is exactly that. In previous years, we have needed the whole team to play at one hundred per cent to win games.
This year, I don't think, with bat or ball, we have yet approached a hundred, yet have beaten the reigning champions and a very strong Yorkshire side.
If we can bat better and bowl solidly as a unit, as well as holding our catches, there is an opportunity with this group of players.
IF, as I have said before, we can keep them fit and available.
Which may be the greatest challenge.