In 2016 Leicester City shocked the sporting world to lift the English Premier League title, now in 2017, Essex County Cricket Club are attempting to write their own sporting fairytale by winning the Specsavers County Championship for the first time since 1992.
Before the season started the Essex members would scarcely believe that their team would find themselves top of the tree passed the halfway mark of the season, but now there is a genuine belief that maybe, just maybe this is their year.
But this story doesn’t begin now it began two years ago, the Chelmsford-based county were struggling in Division Two stagnating into a run of the mill Second Division team, it was then when former Essex skipper Ronnie Irani was appointed as Chairman of the club, and since that point the Eagles haven’t looked back.
A series of shrewd signings and coaching changes have made the club nothing short of formidable, in the hardest season to get promoted to the top flight they brushed off their hoodoos of missing out in previous years to romp to the Division Two title giving a fitting farewell to two of their favourite sons in the process in Graham Napier and David Masters.
It was a crucial winter for Ronnie Irani, Chris Silverwood, and his coaching staff as the club looked to equip itself to be competitive and survive an immediate drop out of the top flight and back into Division Two. They brought back some familiar faces in Adam Wheater and Varun Chopra to the club that is in the main very much a local lads brigade. Many of the starting eleven have plied their trade in the Essex Premier League and/or have come through the academy ranks, and that family like atmosphere about the team and the strength of that bond and team belief has given the Essex playing staff a ‘never say die’ attitude and that mental state has turned probable draws into unlikely wins.
They remain the only team in the top flight to remain unbeaten and deservedly sit on the top step looking down at other Counties who are in theory far superior both in terms of stature and financially. The likes of Yorkshire, Lancashire, Surrey and Middlesex are all on the coat tails of Silverwood’s men.
But just what has been the key to the Eagles success? Here is View From the Outfield’s Essex Correspondent David Bowden top five reasons why the Eagles are soaring high this summer.
1. The Alastair Cook effect: So often have Essex missed their talismanic opener due to his England commitments, but since giving up the captaincy at international level, the Gloucester-born man has been filling his boots for Essex. The former England captain has brought a degree of calmness to the top of the Essex order striking three centuries at an of average 66.7. 'The Chef' as he is affectionately known around Chelmsford has also rubberstamped his reputation by averaging a century every 3.5 innings better than any other player in the county set-up. He has guided Essex to wins over Somerset early in the season hitting a vital ton to guide his side over the winning line, and was involved in a mammoth opening stand with Nick Browne in their last win over Middlesex in the inaugural Day/Night fixture at Chelmsford, he struck 193 (his highest score of the season thus far) as he shared 373 for the first wicket, to create another bit of personal history beating a previous record which had stood since 1994. His loss will hit the Eagles hard but in Varun Chopra, they have a more than adequate replacement.
2. Runs from all areas: When Chopra struck his rapid century last week against Middlesex he became the eighth Essex batsmen to reach a hundred this season. It was always believed that Essex had a strong looking line-up on paper with a mixture of experience in Cook, Ravi Bopara and Ryan ten Doeschate, but they also have a number of talented youngsters in Dan Lawrence, Nick Browne and Tom Westley all of whom have heard whispers from England selectors. Cricket coaches and pundits around the world will tell you if you can get runs on the board your chances of winning improve ten-fold and that is exactly what the Eagles have done time-after-time this season.
3. The rise of Jamie Porter: Here at View From The Outfield we have always seen the potential of the young seamer picking him out early on as one to watch but I think even we are surprised at how well the fair-haired youngster has adapted to Division One. The Leytonstone-born man has collected 33 first-class wickets thus far, the second highest for the county, and his canny habit of picking up early wickets with the new cherry has opened up many a game for the Eagles. Porter has recently received a Lions call-up and continued to impress on the bigger stage, he really is one to watch.
4. The quality of recruitment: As an Essex fan I can tell you that I have seen some shocking overseas imports in my time. Lonwabo Tsosobe just to name just one, but since the arrival of Ronnie Irani, the Essex signing policy has been superb. Last season they realised they needed younger blood in the bowling ranks and brought in Matt Quinn and Matt Dixon, okay Dixon hasn’t worked out just yet, but Quinn certainly looks like a shrewd signing. But it was this winters recruitment that has impressed me the most, the signings of Neil Wagner and Mohammed Amir have proved a success. Wagner quickly became part of the Essex family, and took the dressing room by storm; you would think he has had an influence on Porter’s and Quinn’s game. When the chips were down Essex could always rely on a long spell from Wags to help the boys out. But perhaps most importantly the arrival of a class spinner in Simon Harmer. Every Essex fan knew we needed a decent spinner, in truth the Eagles have lacked one since Danish Kaneria departed the club under a cloud. Harmer, though, has been a revelation since joining the club. The South African Kolpak has quickly become a fans favourite and impressed so much that the Eagles tied him down to a long-term deal just a couple of months into his Essex career. So credit must go to Irani, Derek Bowden and Chris Silverwood on some top class signings.
5. Lastly, that man Harmer again: He is so good he deserves his own section. Not only has he added vital balance to the bowling attack with his canny ability to take wickets but he is willing to bowl mammoth spells, and as a bowler myself I cannot tell you how important that is to have a player the captain can turn to when the front liner seamers need a break. Harmer hasn’t just offered balance as was first thought upon his arrival he has turned himself into the leader of the attack taking a phenomenal amount of wickets. The South African is currently going through a purple patch having picked up 28-wickets in two matches bowling Essex to success over both Warwickshire and Middlesex. He claimed astonishing figures of 9-95 in the second innings at Chelmsford on Thursday night to give Essex a late dramatic win that stretched the Eagles lead at the top of the table to 29-points. You would have to say that Harmer is causing some serious harm to Division One batting line-ups right now and he is crucial to the Eagles title push.
They couldn’t win the whole thing, could they? Well, the Essex faithful are certainly starting to dare to dream.
Written by David Bowden (@Bowdenwhu)
David Bowden, Site Owner - Grumbler, Cricket fanatic and Sports Journalist