It is not hard to understand why Northamptonshire have travelled to Barbados ahead of the 2013 season.
In 2011 the club went to South Africa for pre-season, started well and, despite a late-season slide, came within a point or two of winning promotion. But in 2012, plans for a pre-season trip were cancelled due to budgetary constraints. Northants started the season slowly and never recovered. No county won fewer matches in any of the three competitions.
By contrast, the counties that trained in Barbados in March 2012 hit the ground running and went on to scoop all the major rewards:
Warwickshire won the Championship; Hampshire won the limited-overs double and Yorkshire and Derbyshire were promoted. All had spent the pre-season period in Barbados.
So, this year, Northants have found the money to invest in another pre-season tour. It hasn’t been easy. As is the case around the county game, finances are tight. As a result, each of the team - players and coaching staff - have contributed around £300 to the cost of the trip.
Maybe that is not such a bad thing. Such personal investment may focus the mind and ensure the players are fully committed to maximising the benefits of the tour.
Despite last year’s grim results and the loss of some senior players - Jack Brooks to Yorkshire and Niall O’Brien to Leicestershire - there is an optimism about the club going into this season.
The decision to split the captaincy is intelligent. The club hope that, by allowing Stephen Peters to focus on the Championship side, and Alex Wakely upon the limited-overs sides, both men will have more time and energy for the roles than could be the case when one man was leading in all formats. The early signs are they have built a happy, united squad who appear to genuinely enjoy one another’s successes.
They have recruited wisely, too. Matt Spriegel, frustrated in his desire to play Championship cricket at Surrey, has arrived and has a chance to open the batting and, like Steven Crook, signed from Middlesex, has an ability with bat and ball that will add depth to the side in all formats.
Perhaps more importantly in the long term, the club have some young cricketers emerging through their own system. It has been a long time since Northants have produced England players - Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar remain the most recent - but there is cautious optimism that Ben Duckett, a wicketkeeper batsman, and Olly Stone, a seamer, might be the next. Both are senior members of the England U19 team - Stone was captain and Duckett vice-captain - and both will be given a chance to establish themselves in the Northants first team this year. While Stone, who recently claimed the best figures by an England bowler in an U19 Test, has played a peripheral role in Barbados to date due to a minor injury, Duckett has looked remarkably assured behind the stumps.
It is important for the club that such players prosper. It is not just that Northants could do with the reward payments the ECB make for clubs that produce England players. It is that Northants has, at times, struggled for relevance in recent years and knows that it needs to contribute more to the England game if it is to continue to justify the money it receives as part of the ECB distribution.
It will take time to turn things around. But the fact that players such as Duckett and Stone are developing through the club’s age group system bodes very well for the future. 2013 might not bring trophies and promotion, but it should bring substantial progress.
Article by George Dobell, ESPNcricinfo's senior correspondent, who has seen Northants in action on their pre-season tour to Barbados and sent us his views on the squad.