Ahead of the 2017 season ecb.co.uk previews each county club. First up is Derbyshire CCC.
High-profile overseas signings, an old favourite returning as director of cricket, a world-renowned coach appointed as a groundbreaking T20 specialist, and a leading role in the ICC Women’s World Cup which will see the opening match and a semi-final played at the 3aaa County Ground.
There is a new mood of optimism at Derbyshire, after a 2016 summer which at times was as dismal as the weather.
The failure to win a four-day game prompted chairman Chris Grant to overhaul the playing side with former captain Kim Barnett appointed director of cricket and another popular ex-Derbyshire player, John Wright, brought in as coach for the NatWest T20 Blast.
Anyone else still trying to pick this Imran Tahir googly? 👀 https://t.co/slT35tKG5R— County Championship (@CountyChamp) September 3, 2016
It was widely felt Derbyshire suffered from a lack of experience as much as quality and that has been addressed with the signing of Ireland wicketkeeper-batsman Gary Wilson from Surrey – who has been appointed vice captain to Billy Godleman - and the 28-year-old South African fast bowler Hardus Viljoen.
They have also recruited Imran Tahir, the South Africa leg-spinner who is currently ranked the world’s number one bowler in both 50-over and T20 cricket – quite a statement of intent.
He will join as overseas player once the Champions Trophy is over in June - with Sri Lankan all-rounder Jeevan Mendis taking that role for the first part of the season, which this year includes the Royal London One-Day Cup.
Barnett believes that in addition to boosting Derbyshire's limited-overs credentials, Tahir’s presence can only assist in the development of promising leg-spinner Matt Critchley – who has spent the winter in Sydney working with former Australia leggie Stuart MacGill on an ECB Overseas Placement.
Viljoen, who played four Specsavers County Championship matches for Kent last year, should provide the hostility that was lost when Mark Footitt moved to Surrey at the end of the 2015 season.
Derbyshire have also paid attention to detail, replacing a pre-season overseas trip with preparation in a purpose-built marquee on the square at the County Ground to replicate the conditions associated with an English spring.
"With more cricket than ever earlier in the year and with the 50-over competition taking place in April and May, we felt it was important the guys prepare in the right conditions to give them the best opportunity to be ready and start the season well," Barnett explained.
"We have a strong bunch of young cricketers and we have now got some seniors and internationals to go with them so we are all very hopeful."
While Derbyshire are confident they can be competitive in all formats, they will be hoping Wright's recruitment will improve on a woeful T20 record. The New Zealander has enjoyed considerable success in the IPL in addition to his experience with the India national team, and Barnett added: “We are looking for John to mentor this club in how to play T20 cricket and we couldn’t have a better bloke really.
"I think he is just going to teach them the things he knows from the Indian Premier League, how to win cricket matches and how to get over the line. As we knew last season you can play really well but you don’t quite make it so it's all about getting those wins, it doesn't matter how you do it. I know John is a tenacious person so he will hopefully be teaching them just how to get over the line and win those crucial games."
Derbyshire’s extensive development of the 3aaa County Ground will be recognised, and displayed to a global audience, in the ICC Women’s World Cup later in the summer. The ground will host eight games, including the opening match between England and India on June 24.
There will also be a first Kia Super League fixture at the ground as Loughborough Lightning head north-west to host the inaugural champions Southern Vipers on August 15 as the first half of a double-header which concludes with the Falcons’ Blast game against Durham Jets.
Derbyshire have also been given the honour of hosting West Indies in a floodlit fixture as the tourists prepare for the historic day-night Investec Test at Edgbaston in August – quite a legacy for Grant, who recently announced that he is stepping down as chairman after six years to pursue ambitions with the ECB.
Despite last season’s disappointments, Grant believes he leaves the club in good health after the club reported a surplus for the sixth year running. “The stability we have brought over the last six years is a tick in the box I’m proud of because we have got a financial record that is enviable," he said.
"In terms of the physical legacy, what we have achieved at the ground has been transformational. The ground is unrecognisable from six years ago. We have massively improved the facilities for everybody. The on-field reorganisation and recruitment this winter under Kim Barnett’s guidance should also ensure a far more competitive season on the pitch in 2017 and beyond."