Defying the 'Derby' doubters
If Derbyshire's cricketers took any notice of the opinions of bookmakers, they would be making the most of this coming summer in the top flight and preparing for a return to Division Two in 2014.
But things may not turn out quite like that.
There will be days, as with any other team, when the opposition is too strong and we lose, but I fully expect there to be plenty of others when a competitive side with a team spirit that is the envy of the county circuit will hold their own. This isn't the Derbyshire of most people's experience; they are a tough unit of astute recruits with a point to prove, coupled with some highly talented young cricketers from the club's Academy. All topped off, of course, with one of the world's finest batsmen, an all-time great in Shivnarine Chanderpaul.
I expect Derbyshire to stay up in the County Championship this summer. How convincingly they do so will depend on a fair share of luck, together with a repeat of last summer's willingness to battle down the batting order, hold some remarkable catches and work for each other, aiming to win the sessions and then the games in due course.
Winter recruitment has been shrewd. There have been extended contracts for the best of the existing staff, while Billy Godleman joined from Essex to fill a problematic opening berth. Richard Johnson has arrived from Warwickshire to compete for the gloves with Tom Poynton and there is an air of confidence around the County Ground. Underestimate this side at your peril...
The side will again be captained with quiet authority by Wayne Madsen, who took to the job with the minimum of fuss and considerable flair last summer, while Wes Durston should again prove an able lieutenant. Meanwhile, young left-handers Dan Redfern and Ross Whiteley will look to boost their growing reputations in the top flight, both likely to benefit from batting with Chanderpaul.
If David Wainwright proves as adept at taking wickets in Division One as he did last summer the side should prosper. There were few better seam attacks last year than Tony Palladino, Tim Groenewald and Jonathan Clare, although Derbyshire will do very well to keep them all as fit as was largely managed in the last campaign. Mark Turner showed improvement when opportunity came his way though, while Mark Footitt has a big season in which to show he can marry undoubted pace and talent to sustained fitness.
The club has shown its ambition with the recruitment of Chanderpaul, whose previous county record suggests runs in abundance. The reliability that his reputation suggests has not been common in Derbyshire batting over recent seasons, but if the rest of a long and deep batting line-up can feed off his powers of concentration, Derbyshire could realistically look at a mid-table position by September.
Injuries and the weather will play a part and the back up staff, while talented, is inexperienced. Yet such players as Tom Knight, Peter Burgoyne, Alex Hughes and Paul Borrington have the ability to become established at this level if the opportunity arises.
So too does Chesney Hughes, who burst on to the scene a couple of summers back but has had his struggles of late. The raw talent is there though and one hopes that a batting coach such as David Houghton will yet get the best from a precocious though raw talent.
The shorter formats are unlikely to bring too much success. I don't see the Yorkshire Bank 40 as a club priority and we may blood some youngsters if early results go against us. In the T20, a decent campaign is long overdue. If we can persuade Martin Guptill to return to partner Chanderpaul at the top of the order, we will seldom have a better opportunity.
Likely Championship side
What I love The positive vibe around the County Ground, surely one of the most progressive and well-run clubs on the circuit. The only way is up.
What I'd change Stereotypical opinions and commentators who call us "Derby". We're DerbySHIRE and represent the county!
Steve Dolman has been a Derbyshire fan since 1967 and writes the award-winning Peakfan blog