Warwickshire embark on their 2011 season this week, against Somerset at Taunton, with an opportunity to carve out a special and poignant piece of history over the next five months.
The Bears begin their championship campaign as underdogs, both in the immediate term against title-favourites Somerset and in the bigger picture.
Last season’s ‘great escape’ notwithstanding, Warwickshire have been earmarked as strugglers by most pre-season predictions.
Yet there is a happy omen.
Exactly 100 years ago the Bears opened their season with a toughie – against title-favourites Surrey at The Oval.
They were turned over by an innings in a day and a half – but picked themselves up and, under the inspirational leadership of Frank Foster, charged through to become the first team outside the Big Six (Lancashire, Nottinghamshire, Yorkshire, Middlesex, Surrey and Kent) to finish top.
What a tribute to those trail-blazers - mighty all-rounder Foster, batting barnacles Billy Quaife and Sep Kinneir, the great Tiger Smith behind the stumps, huge-hearted fast-bowler Frank Field – it would be if, a century on, the Bears could emulate their success.
What a nod to an illustrious past as the county, brand new £32million Pavilion End development in place, looks to the future. It probably won’t happen. But cricket is strange.
And this Warwickshire team does strange better than most.
After losing 20 wickets in a day against Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge early last August, they were humiliated, shell-shocked and apparently doomed to relegation.
Director of cricket Ashley Giles emerged from yet another post-play inquest to be asked: “What can you say that you haven’t said before?”
Giles and his coaching colleagues Graeme Welch and Dougie Brown evidently came up with something – or at least the penny finally dropped.
Warwickshire won four of their last five games to ensure they were out of the bottom two at the only time that mattered.
Certainly, under new captain Jim Troughton following Ian Westwood’s resignation, the Bears have much improvement to find.
A pathetic haul of 20 batting points from 16 matches, by far the fewest of any team in Division One, manacled them to a relegation battle despite the excellent efforts of an attack which garnered 47 bowling points, the most in Division One.
Nottinghamshire, with their renowned championship-clinching seam armoury, secured fewer bowling points than the Bears, which only made the sustained collective failure of the top-order all the more frustrating.
And baffling – for spectators, coaches and the suffering batsmen themselves.
Today and as the coming weeks unfold, those batsmen will be under the microscope (at times last season, after collapse followed collapse, there was call for a stethoscope).
But all those who struggled in 2010 are still around and, intriguingly, every batsman in the current squad, barring England pair Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott and short-term overseas signing Mohammad Yousuf, has something to prove.
For Troughton and Darren Maddy, that they can bounce back from last year’s ordeal.
For Westwood, that he can be the heavy-scoring opener the team needs. Varun Chopra must show he can translate elegance into big runs and Will Porterfield, newly-signed from Gloucestershire, that he can lift his first-class average from 33.
Richard Johnson must prove he can fend off the challenge of Tim Ambrose who has to show he is fully focused again after last year’s problems.
Can Rikki Clarke show that he is the batsman who played the Bears’ innings of 2010, against Yorkshire at Headingley, and not the one who so often surrendered his wicket cheaply early in the season?
Behind all those chaps is Ateeq Javid, desperate to prove he is ready for the first-team.
Bell and Trott will be available at home to Lancashire and Worcestershire and away to Nottinghamshire in May while Yousuf will be here for the first six weeks but the bulk of the runs must come from those listed above.
For some – Maddy, Clarke, Ambrose – the coming months will define where their future lies.
The bowling attack, meanwhile, must try to match last season’s fine effort having taken a couple of body blows.
Imran Tahir and Neil Carter shared 107 championship wickets last season but the former has returned to Hampshire and the latter will miss the first half of this season due to a pelvic injury.
With Tahir gone, the spin attack rests with Ant Botha and youngsters Maurice Holmes and Chris Metters. Botha has worked hard throughout the winter at spinning the ball more and Holmes and Metters impressed on the pre-season trip to the Caribbean but opponents, not least Somerset this week, are sure to target the area as a weakness.
Some turning tracks awaiting the Bears around the country.
In one-day cricket, they should challenge hard again. The best 40-over team in the country over the last two years they will fight hard to retain their Clydesdale 40 trophy while could this be the season they actually WIN a Twenty20 quarter-final?
Ah, T20... One factor with which Frank Foster and co did not have to contend in 1911 was, of course, a mid-season epidemic of Twenty20s. Troughton will lead his team into 16 group games between June 2 and July 15.
The 16th, at home to Leicestershire, will be first time the new Pavilion End of Edgbaston ‘goes live’. Mercifully, it will also be the day that the ludicrously overcooked T20 group format dies.
There will be fewer group matches in 2012 and then, I suspect, fewer and fewer and fewer until, perhaps around 2020, the twenty-over format drops quietly back out of senior cricket altogether.