Under the tutelage of John Morris, Derbyshire showed commendable improvements in 2008 that fans will hope continue in 2009. The old frailties were there, most noticeably the apparent inability to pace a one day innings, yet there was enough progress, on and off the field, to suggest that we were not the worst side around by a long chalk.
Winter recruitment has not been substantial but impressive. First Garry Park declined a new contract with Durham in exchange for greater opportunities at Derby and comes with a reputation as a stroke playing batsman, useful bowler and brilliant fielder. Then all rounder Tim Groenewald moved from Edgbaston to the County Ground in a path so well worn that they really should install a conveyor belt. We've so far taken Tim Munton, Graeme Welch and Graham Wagg from the Bears, all with such success that they're renaming it The Road to Salvation...
Most recently news came that Stuart Law had signed, initially for FP Trophy and 20/20 matches with an option for the Pro 40 if required. Cynics may say he's too old, but most fans would have been happy with a Graeme Hick or Mark Ramprakash in their side this past couple of seasons. Law has been signed as much for how he can help younger players as what he scores himself and an improvement in one day batting will be a catalyst for improved results.
We've lost Charl Langeveldt to the IPL for the first month but a fit Tom Lungley can minimise the damage and is another threat to batting line-ups. Partnered by his good friend Graham Wagg, the two of them make up a useful opening attack that is well supported by last year's golden boy Jon Clare. A reject of Lancashire, Clare played some fine innings last year and also bowled with great stamina and skill, suggesting a bright career ahead. With Greg Smith now restored to full fitness and once again able to bowl seam, we have a decent attack with plenty of options.
Jake Needham is now, at 22 the first choice spinner and was another to show enough last year to suggest we have one of the better young spinners on the circuit. He can also bat although with the others in the side will rarely go in before number ten. Mark Lawson is on a month by month trial having been released by Yorkshire and the leggie may fill the obvious gap for a second spinner. I'd have to say that England in April isn't normally the time for wrist-spinners to impress, however.
At the top of the order and as skipper we have one of the unluckiest of Australians in Chris Rogers, a man who would walk into most sides but cannot get a game for his country. Their loss is our gain and in this Ashes summer the reliable Buck has plenty of incentive to show their national selectors what they have missed. There's also West Indian Wavell Hinds back for a second season and if he can hit the ground running there should be plenty to enjoy. Wavell's dibbly dobbly seam got a few wickets last year and he's a reassuring presence in the middle order. Its worth mentioning James Pipe too, as a good wicket keeper who often bats with great panache as an innings that has lost its way is revitalised.
The county have an enviable amount of all rounders. Some might say they are batsmen who bowl or bowlers who bat, but if enough of them come off at the same time we bat low and can field seven or eight bowlers in most games.
With England Under 19 star Dan Redfern now free from school commitments, Paul Borrington finishing University in June and John Sadler, Dan Birch and the ever reliable Steve Stubbings competing for batting places, all fans hope that we'll continue to progress this year. Dare we mention silverware? Maybe not, though a decent cup run and maintaining an interest in the Championship will go a long way towards shutting up the county's detractors. The feeling remains that with Morris at the helm and an excellent academy starting to bear fruit that Derbyshire are perhaps better placed than most and can look forward to the future with confidence.
Now go and do it lads!