Chief Cricket Writer George Dobell reviews a calamitous year for Warwickshire and their challenges ahead.

Anyone who has had the in-laws to stay for Christmas will surely understand the sentiment that all visitors give pleasure - some with their coming, others with their going.

So it proved when Mark Greatbatch's reign at Edgbaston came to an early conclusion. The anger, frustration and disappointment that had built up during the last two seasons almost immediately gave way to hope and relief when the 'dark bad patch' was ended. Warwickshire may start 2008 in the bottom division of both leagues but they do so with more realism, optimism, unity and high spirits than for at least two years.

Last year was undoubtedly a grim year for Warwickshire. An annus horribilis. Record financial losses (about £890,000) and double relegation mean it can arguably be rated the worst in the club's history. Greatbatch has already paid for failure with his job while the steady flow of staff leaving the club's offices provides damning evidence of low morale. Furthermore, membership fell by almost 900 (including juniors and concessions) in 2007 and income from membership subscriptions by £55,000. Even the unpopular changes to car parking resulted in a £16,000 drop in income. It is a depressing picture, isn't it?

Yet there is hope that Warwickshire are about to turn a corner. The return of Test cricket to the ground means the club are forecasting a profit of £500,000 in 2008 while the appointment of Ashley Giles, Allan Donald and Dougie Brown to the coaching staff has raised spirits.

Perhaps even more importantly in the long term, progress should be made on Edgbaston's redevelopment in the next six months. Planning applications are due to be submitted in the first half of the year and the club hope building work will begin after the Ashes Test of 2009. Perhaps the darkest hour is just before the dawn?

Substantial challenges remain, of course. Not only does the funding of the vast scheme remain an issue (the club will have to borrow about £15million), but there are also agreements to be reached with the Calthorpe Estate and several homeowners on the Pershore Road. Compulsory purchase orders are likely - but not certain - to be issued.

Let no-one doubt the necessity of the redevelopment. As things stand, there are no Tests scheduled for Edgbaston after 2010. Though the England and Wales Cricket Board have suggested they will lengthen the staging agreement until 2012, that does not guarantee a Test. The improved facilities (a key part of the Test allocation business) and the extra seating provided by the redevelopment - if it can be achieved at an affordable price - will ensure Warwickshire thrive into the future.

Without redevelopment, an inexorable decline of the club is inevitable. The chief executive, Colin Povey, puts it succinctly: "We can survive for quite a long time without the ground redevelopment."

The enormity of the on-field challenges is almost as daunting. At least Giles is unlikely to fall into the same traps as his predecessor, who flagged the expectations of the membership by setting unrealistic targets for success. Giles, by contrast, is suggesting that it could take several years to bring success to Edgbaston.

He's quite right. By the end of last season, all of those who played in the successful mid-1990s sides had left the playing staff, many within the last 24 months. The winning culture appears to have gone with them. There are some good players in the squad but doubts persist as to whether there are enough of them.

Though Giles and company have promised to develop young English players, they still require the raw materials. The gruesome results of the Warwickshire Cricket Board's Under-19 and Under-17 sides do not suggest we are on the brink of a golden period, so the club's scouting and talent identification will have to improve.

The fact that many of the same individuals remain in those key positions is a concern, so it is perhaps no surprise that two of the first players signed by Giles - Sanath Jayasuiya and Ian Salisbury - were in their late 30s.

It is to be hoped that the Sri Lankan and the leg-spinner will bridge the gap until Warwickshire can develop another generation of match-winners.

Richard Cox's survival as Academy director is little short of a miracle. Having been found to have 'mis-used' the club's website, however, his credibility would appear to have been holed beneath the waterline. It is hard to imagine any other business where his behaviour would have been tolerated.

At least Edgbaston should be a cheerful place this year. While it would be naive to think that Giles' intention to put the passion back into the Bears will bring results on its own - whatever you think of Greatbatch, he did not lack either passion or endeavour - the new coach will not suffer the mood-swings and tantrums of his predecessor. Losing Alex Loudon to the world of business at the age of only 27 is a terrible indictment of the atmosphere at Edgbaston last year.

Whatever happens, 2008 promises to be eventful. If all goes well, we will be able to picture the new Edgbaston and the nucleus of a new team by this time next year. If it does not, others may follow Greatbatch through the exit door.

"Give us some time," Povey said. "If, a little way down the road, we don't have a top team and they [the members] aren't impressed by the ground, then fine. We will have failed but, for now, give us some time."

Sounds reasonable, doesn't it? Yet those words were spoken almost a year ago. Povey is running out of time and he knows it.

"We have to start to turn things around in the next six months," he says now. It's a tough deadline.

Povey has a long way to go before he wins over all of the Warwickshire members.

But if he pulls off the redevelopment - and the smart money suggests he will - they will owe him much.