Warwickshire's players have stepped up their skills work early this winter in an attempt to hit the ground running at the start of next season.
Last winter was a disjointed one for the Bears with a void at the top of the coaching team for several months following the shock departure of Ashley Giles.
After Giles quit as director of cricket just weeks after leading Warwickshire to the championship, the club took plenty of time to decide to appoint Dougie Brown as his successor.
In the intervening period, which turned out to span half the close-season, Brown and Graeme Welch kept things ticking over but it was clearly far from ideal without an overall number-one in place.
This time round things are much more settled so the Bears intend to be well-equipped to make a strong start to the 2014 campaign.
With that in mind, the pre-Christmas training regime has been tweaked to include more cricket training along with the customary early-winter fitness drill, captain Jim Troughton has revealed.
“We have upped our cricket work this pre-Christmas,” the captain said. “Usually at this time of year each player is looking at a minimum of one one-to-one skills session and maybe joining in with the group sessions. But usually its pretty much up to the individual how much fitness and how much cricket they do.
“But this year we have made it really important that our skill levels need to be right up there, not least in one-day cricket, so we are all in together doing our batting and also honing our four-day stuff.
“Cricket-wise everyone has upped it a little bit in the first part of the winter just so we can be a little bit ahead of the game.”
Troughton admits that last winter’s uncertainty over who was going to take over at the helm was not ideal, though he reckons the players coped with the situation well.
“The guys still did really well to carry on what we were doing after we found out Ash was leaving,” the skipper said.
“We were in a little bit of limbo for a couple of months so didn’t get to actually focus on what we wanted to work on. We just carried on what were doing before.
“But this time we have had a good meeting and spoken individually to all the players and found out what we need to work on as individuals and a group.
“There is a bit more clarity and hopefully we will see the benefit of that when we get to Barbados to take the pre-season work to the next level in March.”
High on the Bears’ agenda for next season is to expedite a long-awaited improvement in Twenty20, in which they have not qualified for the finals day since 2003.
The 2014 campaign will bring a brand new T20 format with games to be played every Friday evening from mid-May onwards instead of all coming in a mid-season block, as has been the case before.
The Bears narrowly failed to escape their group last season, recovering from a bad start in the zonal phase to earn themselves a win-or-bust decider in the final match against Somerset.
They lost it and their chance to compete in the finals day at Edgbaston evaporated. But with the climax of the competition to be hosted by the Bears again in 2014, the incentive for director of cricket Brown’s side to be there next time is huge.
And Brown reckons they could challenge hard for success in the revamped competition next season.
“We prepared well and had a good strategy last season but lost the first three games and that makes it tough,” he said.
“Then we played some very good Twenty20 cricket through the middle and latter part of the group and to get into a position whereby winning the last game would have taken us through was a really good effort. Effectively, we didn’t qualify by nine runs.
“But we showed a lot of character and we have identified a number of areas we need to work on and that will be a matter of priority this winter.
“It’s hard to put a finger on why we haven’t got through to T20 finals day for so long. We have a strong squad and players who can turn games.
“We have tended to play the game slightly differently to a lot of other teams and have not had that power-batter up front since Neil Carter did it so well.
“But we still think we just need to be more methodical about it so it’s not just like a flash in the pan.
“Just like in championship cricket, we want to have a formula that does not just win you a game here and a game there but is sustainable over a period of time.
“We haven’t fulfilled our potential in T20 over the last ten years but we are working hard on it.
“Having the finals day at Edgbaston just highlights the fact that we are not there, so we need to get that monkey off our back.
“We didn’t do it this year but have learned a lot about what we need to do and not do.”
* The 2014 season starts on April 13. The Bears play a three-day warm-up game against Oxford MCCU at The Parks starting on April 7.