Here’s new writer Tasneem-Summer Khan (who some of you might know from Guerilla Cricket) with her preview of Essex’s season. Can the 2017 Champions reclaim their title? Good to have you onboard, Tasneem. 

Promoted into Division 1 in 2017, going on to win the title in their first year, Essex were the only thorn in Surrey’s side in the 2018 season, preventing the Champions from having an unbeaten run to mirror their own triumph only the year before.

The match up between the previous champions, and Surrey who were already clear of the table going into the final match of the season, was one of the year’s most memorable – refuting the boring ‘Dead Rubbers’ moaners like to, well, moan about. Everyone who was at the final match of the season, Surrey supporter, Essex supporter, or cricket supporter, left The Oval happy.

The match was nothing short of a spectacle, giving the badgers something to dream about during the English winter, keeping us going until April 2019. There were veritable stars of the 2018 finale – Sam Cook and Jamie Porter took 4 wickets each, aided by Matt Quinn to skittle out the unbeaten side, comprising Burns, Stoneman, Roy, Pope, Foakes, Jacks and Patel for a paltry 67. Tom Westley regained form with 134, Adam Wheater, recently becoming Essex’s premier multiformat keeper after one-County-wicketkeeping-wonder James Foster hung up his gloves earlier in the summer, added a quick 68, and Simon Harmer in a fairytale innings posted his maiden century for Essex to rack up at lead of 410.

Surrey, showing remarkable determination, responded with centuries from Roy and Pope, with pretty much everyone else ensuring the scorecard just kept on ticking to push for a 131 lead.

Final innings – Dead Rubber, who even cares except both squads, everyone at the aesthetically-pleasingly full ground and my Dad, texting me live updates as if I wasn’t sitting close enough to admire Jade Dernbach’s tattoos – Essex batsmen Nick Browne and Murali Vijay (heard of him?) jog onto the field to chase down the paltry 131.

Enter Morne Morkel. Assisted by Dernbach and Amar Virdi, together they -skittle through the same batsmen who put on close to 500 only 36 hours ago, ensuring no one makes more than 20 (that impressive honor goes to Westley).

As Ravi Bopara departs for a duck, I’m starting to feel a little nervous. Palms sweaty, Oval spaghetti. After all, South London is not as kind as Chelmsford, I’m surrounded by Surrey fans and sitting with Mrs. Dernbach. Smack-talking has repercussions, and your girl is about to feel them.

And then our long-serving Skip jogs on to the field, eyes dark with determination and responsibility. He’s got this. But, maybe, so has Morne. Tendo can’t bat alone, and Morne is removing partners faster than he can amass runs.

1 wicket remaining, 7 runs needed. Matt Quinn comes in to bat. Matt Quinn, tall and all-elbows. Ok, well maybe he can get off-strike and Tendo can… Nope. Or maybe Morne will stop being a world-class competitor for long enough to… pepper Quinny with everything: pace, variety, attacking his stumps, attacking his head, attacking his ribs. And that 6 ball battle (what’s an ‘over’ you males speak of), is what makes the County Championship great.

Battles like this are what make the long-form of the game so brilliant. Hell, this particular battle is exactly what makes these two teams so brilliant. It was grit, determination and persistence. It was an innings which cannot be understood from scorecards. It was an unlikely hero in the form of Matt Quinn seeing the likely ten Doeschate and his team over the line.

This was the final game of the 2018 season – and to whoever has asked me whether County Cricket is worth their time, this is the match I reference. These are the teams, alongside Somerset (I know he’s started slow, but Azhar Ali. Pakistan’s loss is the Championship’s gain) and possibly Hampshire, I point to.

If you want to see ‘Real Cricket™,’ whatever it might mean to you – this is where you will see it. To me, that’s sides worth cheering for; teams that will surprise you; batsmen whom inspire you; bowlers who amaze you. The County Championship has ‘it,’ whatever ‘it’ is, in droves.

There are a handful of teams who can pick up that trophy come September, and Essex are one of them. Strengths and weaknesses are to be found in all of the squads, and shockingly, in English fixtures, the weather matters. It’s a summer sport where we wear bobble hats and there are hail breaks. Essex suffered for rain last season, and a little bit of luck goes a long way in this game.

There are not a lot of teams who can boast a LITERAL SIR as opposed to my often pedantic use of the word, with Alastair Cook being arguably England’s greatest ever batsman. Where Essex suffered for runs last year, his availability, hopefully without the spectre of England-selection and criticism looming over him, can do wonders for the side.

In addition to the Chef, the batting talents of Essex include Dan Lawrence, Nick Browne and Tom Westley – all of whom, when in form, are capable of frequent centuries. Anyone who does not know of the Beat-Mode status of Ravi Bopara by now should not be allowed admission into any ground in the country.

Sadly for the side, yours truly managed to jinx them on the first day of the season by putting out a predictions podcast on The Broken Wicket that heavily tipped Adam Wheater with the bat and the gloves. Wheater was likely to have a massive season, his first without the shadow of James Foster, a peerless wicketkeeper in his generation – that is until I stepped in to ensure a first-day-of-the-season thumb injury which puts him out for the next 6 weeks.

The younger batting rungs of the side include Rishi Patel (multiple centuries on the trot for the 2nd XIs), Aaron Beard, Varun Chopra (incorrectly regarded as a white ball player), Aaron Nijjar, Paul Walter, Jack Plom, Feroze Khushi, and the currently-recovering-from-an-Appendectomy Michael Pepper. In short, a little form from the stalwarts, a little support from the royalty, and as ever, the watchful, experienced eye of ten Doeschate and Essex are more than capable of putting together a good score. With a few runs on the board, Essex’s bowling is deadly.

Fresh from Victoria’s Sheffield Shield win, proving that age is a meaningless number, even for a pace bowler, is Peter Siddle. Siddle took 37 wickets in just 7 matches last summer, and to call him ‘in good nick’ is an understatement. With early summer matches, the Duke ball moves more than a third-culture kid, and provides the perfect backdrop for Lil Chef Sam Cook, Jamie Porter, Matt Quinn, and the most prolific yet underrated first class bowler in cricket, Simon Harmer with his 106 wickets in the last calendar.

Matt Coles, whose move from Kent has largely underwhelmed thus far, is full of that drive and grit we’ve so often valued, and in my opinion, ready to rip through some middle-to-lower order batsmen.

The start of the season could have been kinder to the side, with what most of us had hoped would be a draw at the Ageas Bowl turning into an innings loss. But losing Wheater, and not-yet-regaining Siddle, didn’t help – nor did Sam Northeast, Rilee Rossouw, Liam Dawson, Aiden Markram, or Fidel Edwards. How unthoughtful of them after I tipped Rossouw, Dawson and Edwards for everyone’s fantasy teams (if the curse applies to Adam Wheater – shouldn’t it equally apply to the opposition? Be right back… changing all my Essex picks to Surrey gents…)

Nevertheless, the side will have done the only thing to do after a game that dejecting – push it right out of their minds and pretend it never happened. Then it was on to the Oval to do battle with the reigning Champs – in what one can only surmise will be a match I will point to next year to convert international friends to the beauty of the County Championship. It might have ended in a draw, but there was top class cricket aplenty.

Tasneem-Summer

@summeryael