The good news that Derbyshire supporters were waiting for came this week, as Alex Hughes signed a new three-year deal with the county, one that keeps him at the club until the end of the 2020 season.
At 26, Hughes has been around the club for a long time, but university studies hindered his cricket progress for a while. Before last season he had flirted with the first team and showed glimpses of promise, making an occasional good score, chipping in with wickets when given the opportunity and fielding well in any position.
Last season was the breakthrough. While long-term readers will know that I have espoused his value to the side for some time, 2017 was the summer in which his talents became obvious to a wider audience. He sealed and maintained a position in the middle order for the first time, making the number five role his own with a series of fine innings. One of 142 at Bristol in the summer's final knock took his season average to a solid 40, while edging his career one north of 30 for the first time. It was his fourth century for the club and something on which he can build.
I have mentioned before his ability to score runs when most needed and it is one that promises to serve his county well. Perhaps, like a county professional pre-war, he will better learn to 'drink at the well' when conditions are in his favour, as a score of 30-3 is more likely to see him at his best than one of 200-3, but it should be remembered that he has still had only 74 first-class innings.
He finished top of the RLODC averages and has the ability to play the orthodox and unorthodox with equal skill. He has all the shots and yet a defence and technique that enables him to dig in and score runs when others fail. I see him as the man around who the batting line-up can be built for the next five-ten years and I am pleased to see his value to the side becoming more obvious to others.
Whether his bowling becomes even more that of an occasional option only time will tell. I don't recall him bowling in the four-day game last summer, though his skiddy medium pace remains a useful one-day option on slower wickets. I hope it is not ignored, because the likes of Paul Collingwood and Darren Stevens have shown the merits of a more sedate pace, especially on early season tracks.
I also see him as captain-elect of the club, almost certainly the next vice-captain to Billy Godleman and eventual heir to the 'throne'. He's a bright, intelligent and affable lad, with a level of commitment that all sports supporters want to see from one of their own.
I am pleased that the new contract affords him the security that a player needs to flourish. The next five years should see a talented erstwhile bit-part player become a rock of the county eleven.
I look forward to seeing it happen.