The battle lines have been drawn and the stage is set for the English cricketing summer to begin. Last year, Essex turned things around remarkably to lift the county championship after 25 years. What worked well for them was a fresh and exciting breed of homegrown cricketers including the likes of Jamie Porter, Dan Lawrence, and Nick Browne. Jamie Porter topped the list of wicket-takers by picking up 75 Championship wickets in 13 matches at an impressive average of 17.
Also, the likes of Lawrence and Browne made a significant contribution with the bat whenever the team were in dire straits.
Veteran all-rounder Ryan ten Doeschate’s inspirational captaincy was instrumental in instilling sense of purpose and enthusiasm within the players. Jamie Porter spoke at length about ten Doeschate’s captaincy skills and brought to light the extent of confidence the Dutchman had in a bunch of young and comparatively inexperienced cricketers.
The club made some smart signings by roping in South African all-rounder Simon Harmer on a Kolpak contract. The likes of proven international quicks in Wahab Riaz, Mohammad Amir, and Neil Wagner too proved their mettle by making significant contributions.
But this year, it’s going to be a different ball game altogether. After tasting success in the longest format of the game, the team need to shift their focus towards white ball cricket. Traditionally, Essex have been a good enough team in coloured clothing. They have had a tendency of getting into the knockouts quite easily and messing it up thereafter. Something similar happened last year as well, where the team won seven out of the eight group stage matches they played in the Royal London One-Day Cup (South Group), but bowed out of the tournament against Nottinghamshire (who eventually ended up winning the title).
What differentiates the longest format of the game from the limited overs format is not just the number of overs that are bowled. Limited overs format demands a younger breed of players who can score quickly, either by whacking the bowlers all around the park or by milking the ones and twos. Fortunately for Essex, they possess the right blend of youth and experience.
The batting lineup looks impressive, with the likes of three seasoned campaigners in Alastair Cook, Ravi Bopara, and skipper Ryan Ten Doeschate forming the core of their batting order. Talented youngsters such as Tom Westley, Nick Browne, and Dan Lawrence would have to play around these three stalwarts.
The team need to give a specific role to their batters. They need to assign a specific role to each and every batsman. There needs to be a solid opening combination, a sheet anchor, and a couple of aggressors down the order.
A striking feature of this Essex squad has been the focus on acquiring some talented all-rounders. Simon Harmer has been retained and they have signed a solid all-round cricketer in Matt Coles from Kent. The likes of Ashar Zaidi and Callum Taylor are quality all-rounders, capable of turning the match around either with the willow in hand or with the white cherry. Also, James Foster, the veteran Essex gloveman, is no mug with the bat. The 37-year-old has played some remarkable innings throughout his long and illustrious career with Essex. Even at 37, the veteran is no less than a live wire behind the stumps and those reflexes of his haven’t diminished a bit.
A significant feature of this Essex bowling line up is the emergence of young and expressive bowlers. The likes of Jamie Porter and Paul Walter are making giant strides in domestic cricket. Porter, in particular, is expected to spearhead the Essex bowling attack in coloured clothing after his heroics in the County Championship last summer.
In order to win competitions, you need wickets, and you need them fairly quickly. In order to dismantle the opposition, the bowlers need to step up. Fortunately for Essex, their bowling lineup looks settled. Young players like Walter and Porter have made their presence felt, thanks to the club's youth development system.
Essex have made a few interesting additions to their armoury. Tried and tested international seamers in Peter Siddle (Australia) and Neil Wagner (New Zealand) have been signed in a bid to add some international experience to the pace battery. On one hand, the County Championship would see both these seamers flexing their muscles in Division 1, while on the other, the Twenty20 Blast would see Australian leggie Adam Zama donning the Essex jersey.
Looking at the quality of players in their ranks, Essex are expected to do well in the limited overs format. After Championship glory last summer, skipper Ryan ten Doeschate would look to extend Essex’s dominance in the domestic circuit. He has every right to be optimistic as the veteran has some excellent young players to work with.