Where? The CloudFM County Ground, Chelmsford.
Ins: Adam Wheater (Hampshire), Simon Harmer (Kolpak), Neil Wagner (New Zealand – First half of season), Mohammad Amir (Pakistan from June 19th)
Outs: David Masters (Retired), Graham Napier (Retired), Jaik Mickleburgh (Released).
Key man: Jamie Porter
Last Year: County Championship: Division Two Winners, RLODC: Q/F defeat to Warwickshire, T20 Blast: Q/F defeat to Nottinghamshire.
2017 Odds: Championship: 20/1, RLODC: 14/1, T20 Blast: 14/1
Our Essex correspondent David Bowden airs his views on a testing upcoming season for the Eagles.
After a successful 2016 which saw the Eagles finally take flight and reach the promised land of Division One after falling at the final hurdle for a number of years, the Chelmsford-based team will be looking for a steady Eddie season which will see them consolidate their place in the top flight.
Chris Silverwood has quietly assembled a solid looking Division One outfit with some shrewd-looking deals over the winter that will surely boost their survival hopes. The most notable of these are the two overseas arrivals for the campaign, the experienced duo of Neil Wagner and Mohammad Amir will add vital bite and variation to a weak looking bowling attack with only Jamie Porter a recognised experience four-day pace bowler. It will be a big season for Porter who will look to establish himself as the promising bowler that many are saying he is. Having only excelled in Division Two cricket, however, this will be his greatest challenge yet. He, alongside Aaron Beard and Matt Quinn, make up the rest of a bowling line-up that lacks a great amount of experience and variation for Division One cricket, so needless to say the wickets of Wagner and Amir will ultimately decide their fate. What they lack in experience with the ball, they make up with the willow as a number of Division One regulars and England hopefuls give the Eagles hope for plenty of big scoring innings. The arrival of Varun Chopra and Adam Wheater further adds to the class the Eagles possess with the bat, and that is without mentioning former England captain Alastair Cook – who they will hope to see far more of following his stepping down as leader of the national team.
The club will be under no illusions as to how tough this campaign will be having tasted relegation in their last foray into the top flight at the first time of asking, but it seems that there is a real plan in place for the Eagles to keep them afloat this time around. The signing of Simon Harmer finally gives them a spinning outlet to hold an end up whilst the seamers plug away at the other end. This squad seems to be the most competitive the county has seen for some time. These are exciting times to be following four-day cricket as an Essex fan and I see no reason why they can’t scrap survival if they can keep their key men fit.
As for the white ball game, they will be looking to end their Quarter-Final hoodoo, and with a strong looking line-up with the likes of Tom Westley, Ryan Ten Doeschate (the new limited overs skipper), Nick Browne and Ravi Bopara in their batting ranks runs shouldn’t be an issue. It is with the ball where the worries lie, the loss of Graham Napier will hit them hard, and once again they will be relying on the fitness of Jamie Porter and the canny wicket taking abilities of their overseas pros and all-rounders. Whilst limited overs cricket may not be the priority for the Eagles this summer, the extra finances from a cup success wouldn’t go amiss for Ronnie Irani and co.
This is a big year for Essex and they will need to get off to a flying start to avoid playing catch up in what is a very competitive top flight.
Championship: A plucky last gasp survival (6th)
RLODC: Q/F defeat
T20 Blast: Group Stage
By David Bowden (@Bowdenwhu)