Top-Flight Essex Ready to Make Impact

The domestic cricket season is fast approaching and with Essex making the move to Division One, George Geaves has a look at what’s in store for the summer.

In his second year as head coach, Chris Silverwood will be looking to guide his Essex side to a successful campaign after their exploits in 2016, in which Essex won the second division of the County Championship and made it through the group stage of both of the shorter-format competitions.

Staying power

Essex’s number-one priority this season will be to stay in Division One, but with a squad that boasts some class individuals, they could potentially make a push for the top of the table. Their squad mixes youth and experience, with the likes of Varun Chopra and Ravi Bopara at the top of their order and then James Foster and Ryan ten Doeschate in the middle.

Essex also have the likes of Tom Westley and opener Nick Browne, who will both be trying to gain attention from the England selectors by scoring runs in the top division. Exciting youth prospects such as Dan Lawrence and Kishen Velani will be hoping to cement their spots in the side after promising starts to their careers. There is little doubt that Essex have the quality in their squad to stay up this season.

Key bowling additions…

One key area that Essex have struggled with in the past few years is a quality spinner, but this year they may have found their man. Twenty-eight-year-old off-spinner Simon Harmer has joined on a kolpak contract and his talent may prove to be what Essex have lacked. The Daily Mail’s cricket correspondent Paul Newman says that Harmer “could fill the gap and be a key man this year.”

Essex have also bolstered their fast-bowling ranks with the signing of Mohammad Amir, who will join up with the team in mid-June after the Champions Trophy. The Pakistan international does come with some baggage, and will be sure to receive a hostile reception after his involvement with the infamous match fixing scandal in 2010. But he will provide great firepower for Essex and will presumably be their go-to bowler as apart from Amir, their fast bowling options look fairly scarce.

…and key retirements

Essex will have to adjust to life without Graham Napier and David Masters, who both retired after last season. The pair were part of the squad’s spine and will be hard to replace, but Essex have a plethora of young bowlers who have just transitioned into the first team and will be looking to pounce on the opportunity of first-team action in 2017.

Overall, Essex’s squad looks like it will have no problem scoring plenty of runs this season; however the responsibility of taking wickets will lie heavily on the shoulders of Harmer and Amir and if they should fail to deliver then Essex could struggle to bowl sides out.

Knock-out stage struggles

In the limited-overs competitions, Essex have regularly been towards the business end in recent years, but fall short of the big prize. The last time they failed to qualify from the group stages of the T20 competition was in 2011—yet they have only got to Finals Day once in that time.

But Newman believes that this year “Essex will go close to winning the NatWest T20 Blast” and indeed it is hard to rule them out. Bopara and ten Doeschate have played domestic T20 cricket all around the world in competitions such as the Big Bash and the Indian Premier League so they will both be looking to utilise their experience to guide the team to success.

Newman also believes that Bopara will thrive this year after he relinquished the limited-overs captaincy to ten Doeschate. And Amir will also be a useful strike bowler for Essex which is key to any successful T20 side. The returning Varun Chopra won this competition with Warwickshire in 2014; he featured in almost every game and was an integral member of that squad, so he is sure to bring something to the table for Essex in their limited-overs campaigns.

It is sure to be another good season for Essex as they look to finally break their T20 duck and cement themselves in the pinnacle of Championship cricket. Silverwood has done an excellent job so far, but he will be looking to build on last year and make Essex one of the heavyweights of county cricket again.