Essex eh? You either love them or loathe them. There was a time when the Essex mafia dominated English cricket. Names like Gooch, Foster and Pringle were synonymous with the England team.
Latterly of course, it’s all been about Andy Flower and Alastair Cook. Just don’t mention the name James Foster, or all those ‘he only plays for England because he plays for Essex’ assumptions completely fall apart.
I for one am quite happy that Essex have won the championship. I can’t say I’m delirious – being a Worcestershire fan my focus has been on division two – but I do think Essex’s triumph is rather satisfying and pretty good news for cricket in general. Not least because a smaller county has won the biggest prize in English domestic cricket.
What’s more, as an opponent of Harrison’s Harebrained Have A Hit, I’ve come to rather like Essex chairman John Faragher. Rather than being in bed with the establishment (something Essex have sometimes been accused of), Faragher was quite vocal in his opposition to the new city T20. Who can forget this principled statement back in April:
“We are focused on expanding cricket in Essex, East Anglia and Metropolitan London, ensuring there are opportunities for all age and ability groups, male and female, to be actively involved in the game.
We believe that as a result of the proposed changes, these opportunities will be reduced, that our income overall will suffer and the first-class game will be diminished, in contradiction to the ECB’s objective which is to grow the game in this country – an objective that is unlikely to be advanced by a competition which would exclude large areas of the country from any involvement in it.”
I also admire Essex for disproving the assumption that division two teams cannot be competitive in division one. We often hear that division two is a poor standard, and that runs and wickets in the second tier are meaningless, but Essex have proved there are some bloody good players ‘down there’. The fact they’ve won the championship the season after being promoted is a fantastic achievement and should give clubs in division two some hope.
Essex are also very worthy champions. In fact, they have all the ingredients that classic championship winning sides have: a strong opening partnership in Browne and Chopra (not to mention Alastair Cook), a hugely talented young gun in Dan Lawrence, plus a couple of grizzled old pros in Ravi Bopara and Ryan ten Doeschate.
As for the bowling, Jamie Porter continues to exceed all expectations and I’ve always quite liked New Zealand’s Neil Wagner because he’s aggressive and wholehearted. Essex also have a good spinner in Simon Harmer (let’s sidestep the fact he’s a kolpak player) and Sam Cook is another youngster making his way. And, of course, it helps when someone like Mohammad Amir occasionally turns out for you.
I’m also a big fan of James Foster. He’s still a very good keeper, even at the age of 37, and I simply can’t believe that he hasn’t played more for England. They say he can’t bat but he averages 37 in first class cricket and has scored 23 centuries. Jos Buttler can only dream of stats like that.
So next time you mutter ‘bloody Essex’ under your breath, just think about all the above. We all love the nostalgia when a county like Yorkshire win the championship – when Yorkshire are strong, England are strong etc – but Essex have a proud history themselves. And they’ve often punched above their weight.
Chris Silverwood, their adopted Yorkie head coach, has done a brilliant job. Congrats.