It has been an encouraging winter for Derbyshire players.
Luis Reece went to Bangladesh and did pretty well with bat and ball, Hardus Viljoen has been in the wickets around the globe and new overseas player Duanne Olivier has taken plenty too, earning himself a recall to the South African national squad for all his hard work.
Will Davis appears to be fitter and stronger and, all things considered, we are on the verge of April in pretty good shape.
Perhaps the best news is that of Matt Critchley.
He has looked 'the business' as a cricketer since he first emerged on the scene and it was patently obvious that he could handle a bat from his maiden century. He has an obvious panache when batting and a desire to dominate the bowling that is refreshing. Yes, it can infuriate when it goes awry, but that is part of the development process.
He wasn't a part of the first choice side at the start of last summer, but when opportunity knocked he was ready to grasp it. A brilliant century at Chesterfield followed, and then, when given a chance to move up the order in T20 cricket, he took that too, with a series of innings that transformed an erstwhile too pedestrian Powerplay into something that was quite special.
I have said this so many times in recent summers. Yes, there is a core of experienced players in the Derbyshire squad, but chances are there to get into the side. What they all have to do, when they come, is be ready. Score runs and take wickets in the seconds to stake a claim, then translate that into the senior game. That is what Alex Hughes has done, so too Will Davis. Luis Reece emerged from being a peripheral player at Lancashire to a key member of the side now, winning a personal battle for an opening berth with Ben Slater in so doing.
Slater can make it, because there is no doubt he has the talent. He has reeled off some stunning innings in the RLODC, but now needs to show he can do that in the longer form of the game. His busy style will always get runs, but this is the year when he needs to show that he can maintain concentration when ticking the scoreboard over is less easy. While a breezy forty can make you a star in short formats, it leaves question marks in the longer game that he needs to answer this year.
I think he can do it.
Back to Critchley, and once again, given a chance at an elevated level, the series between North and South, he took it with a brilliant 64 from just 37 balls. He hits a ball so crisply that he has the world at his feet, IF he continues to work and listen to the right people. A strong winter in Australia could turn out to be the making of him.
The jury may still be out on whether he can be an all-rounder, or, like Kim Barnett, be a batsman who can bowl some useful overs, but he is young enough to develop still further and is amply justifying the decision to give him a four-year contract, which runs to the end of 2020.
He has confirmed a place in the starting line-up for me and, barring injury, five of the top six to play against Middlesex should be Godleman, Reece, Madsen, Hughes and Critchley. Either Gary Wilson or Ben Slater will join them and I don't expect Wilson to get it 'just because' he is vice-captain. As Daryn Smit suggested Harvey Hosein was given opportunity last year, when he was short of runs, I expect a pragmatic approach to selection from the senior players once more.
It will be fascinating to watch how it unfolds and I look forward to it immensely.
Not long now folks...