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Well-managed Derbyshire have promotion potential

Mark Footitt chipped his way through New Zealand's top order Getty Images

Last season
Championship: 4th Div 2; NatWest Blast: 9th North Group; Royal London Cup: Quarter-finals

In: Shiv Thakor (Leicestershire), Wayne White (Lancashire).

Out: Tim Groenewald (Somerset), Stephen Moore, Richard Johnson (both retired), Gareth Cross, Peter Burgoyne, Paul Borrington, Mark Turner, Matt Higginbottom (all released)

Overseas: Martin Guptill (T20), Tillakaratne Dilshan (T20), Nathan Rimmington (T20)

2014 in a nutshell
The car accident that injured wicketkeeper Tom Poynton and tragically killed his father, Keith, overshadowed the first weeks of the season. Poynton's injuries meant he did not play a game - instead he worked in the club's commercial department - and the squad underwent a number of changes during Graeme Welch's first campaign in charge. Tim Groenewald and Stephen Moore were moved on - to Somerset and retirement respectively - as Welch focused on rebuilding in the wake of Championship relegation in 2013. They finished the season in good shape, winning five out of six to suggest the team was going in the right direction. There was also a quarter-final appearance in the Royal London Cup, though Derbyshire's T20 form was dismal, with just one win.

2015 prospects
A tight, well-drilled side, Derbyshire have developed a reputation for maximising their resources. Last year, they had the most penetrative bowler in the country - Mark Footitt's's 82 Championship wickets winning him a spot on the England Performance Programme - but took some time to find a settled side, using 24 different players. Wayne Madsen, the captain, will again be the key batsman - he recently qualified to represent England and has said he is looking to get on the selectors' radar. Welch has opted to promote youth and Derbyshire will need greater contributions from their senior players if they are to sustain a promotion challenge but the signings of Martin Guptill and Tillakaratne Dilshan, as well as Shiv Thakor and Wayne White, should provide valuable extra quality.

Power brokers
Taking over from Karl Krikken meant Welch immediately had high standards to live up to and, after some initial struggles, his approach seems to be working. A focus over the winter has been on improving fitness levels, while talk of working on "some new shots for the batsmen and some new deliveries for the bowlers" is intriguing, perhaps aimed at improving limited-overs fortunes. Madsen has become a lynchpin with the bat, allied with a calm and measured approach to the captaincy.

Key player
Footitt's pace and left-arm action have long generated admiring glances but, at the age of 29, he finally found the consistency to go with them. Able to swing the ball back in to right-handers as well as hit the seam, Footitt is at the quicker end of the spectrum, if not quite a match for Mitchell Johnson. Of his 198 first-class wickets, almost half came in 2014, at an average of 19.19; he was also a key part of Derbyshire's run to the last eight of the Royal London Cup.

Bright young thing
Wicketkeeper Harvey Hosein was playing for Derbyshire 2nd XI at the age of 13 and last season he made a record-breaking start to life in the senior side. A month after his 18th birthday, he collected seven catches in an innings against Surrey - no one has ever taken more on their first-class debut - then added four more in the second innings, the first time a Derbyshire keeper had collected 11 in a match. That feat meant he surpassed the great Bob Taylor but he will have to battle Poynton for a starting spot.

ESPNcricinfo verdict
The template for Derbyshire will be their own promotion campaign of 2012, when a committed squad effort carried them to an unexpected title. If Guptill helps get them off to a good start, as he did three years ago, Wes Durston and David Wainwright rediscover some form, and young players such as Ben Slater, Alex Hughes and Ben Cotton continue their development, they should find themselves in contention. Hard to see how they can't improve on their T20 showing, too. Ground improvements at Derby all help give the impression of a county in good hands and valued in the region.

Bet365 odds: LV= Championship, Div 2: 13-2; NatWest Blast 28-1; Royal London Cup 20-1