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Can Essex CCC repeat their County Championship-winning season?

PUBLISHED: 10:37 26 June 2018

Jamie Porter of Essex celebrates taking the wicket of Jordan Clark during Essex CCC vs Lancashire CCC, Specsavers County Championship Division 1 Cricket at The Cloudfm County Ground on 22nd April 2018

Jamie Porter of Essex celebrates taking the wicket of Jordan Clark during Essex CCC vs Lancashire CCC, Specsavers County Championship Division 1 Cricket at The Cloudfm County Ground on 22nd April 2018

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For the first time in 25 years, Essex County Cricket Club started the Specsavers County Championship season as defending champions. So can they repeat the feat this year? Words: Nick Dines | Photos: Courtesy of The Lord’s Taverners

Look close enough at The Cloudfm County Ground in Chelmsford and you’re sure to still find the odd Champagne cork – a remnant of the memorable title celebrations back in September 2017.

This time last year, despite an impressive Second Division promotion campaign, many pundits had Essex down as relegation certainties upon their return to the top flight of English domestic cricket. What followed that season was one of the sport’s most unexpected stories of the modern era.

Winning 10 of their 14 league fixtures in an unbeaten campaign to clinch the County Championship, invincible Essex delivered a monumental season.

Perhaps the greatest of their seven Championship victories in the club’s history, the class of 2017 secured Essex County Cricket Club’s (ECCC) first title triumph since 1992 and the glory era of club legend Graham Gooch. To put that into perspective, that year saw Bill Clinton sworn in as US President and Whitney Houston dominate the airwaves with I Will Always Love You.

REMARKABLE RISE

In little under two seasons, ECCC, often derided as perennial underachievers, had transformed from stagnation in the second tier, to the best county side in the UK. It was a remarkable rise, despite limited resources. It involved a real team effort, from the players and coaching staff through to the ground staff, making the title success last autumn a trophy for everyone involved.

The team with the trophyThe team with the trophy

Fans of the champions take added pride in their side, with the core of the squad comprised of players with a strong local connection, with home-grown players from the likes of Ilford, Wanstead, Chingford, South Woodford, Chelmsford and Billericay.

Supplemented by the experience of stars such as Alastair Cook, here was an achievement fuelled on a blend of experience and prodigious youth, which bodes well for the continued success of the county moving forward.

Boasting impressive league-leading figures of 75 wickets in a fine inaugural Division One campaign, talented seam bowler Jamie Porter collected a number of significant accolades. Essex’s Player of The Year was also named as a Wisden Almanack Cricketer of the Year for 2018, becoming the 25th Essex player to be awarded the prestigious title.

For loyal servants such as Cook and Ravi Bopara, last season’s stunning achievement is up there with many of their finest cricketing memories, even representing England.

Having first joined Essex in 2003, 37-year-old club captain, Ryan ten Doeschate, is another experienced campaigner at the club who was able to delight in the victory.

Tom WestleyTom Westley

“It’s incredible to think how far we’ve come in the past two years. It’s been a massive team effort, with everyone chipping in,” reflected the side’s evidently proud leader.

“It’s a great time for the club. This win was for not only everyone involved with Essex now, but also anyone who has ever been involved with the club, including past players and coaches. I hope they really enjoyed what we achieved. There was a lot of brave talk at the start of last season, so to actually do it, in the manner we did, was a massive credit to the team and everybody involved with the club.”

The home of cricket welcomed Vice Captain Tom Westley and the squad to Lord’s in March for the official Lord’s Taverners ECB County Championship Trophy and medal presentation. There the squad received the golden trophy from Lord’s Taverners president Sir Michael Parkinson and their medals from Essex icon Graham Gooch.

The club’s outstanding achievement was also acknowledged shortly before the start of the new campaign, with a special civic reception for players and staff at Chelmsford’s County Hall, hosted by the Chairman of Essex County Council, Cllr John Aldridge.

CONTINUITY

ECCC’s success has proved England’s gain, as title-winning head coach Chris Silverwood attracted the attention of the national side to join the England staff as bowling coach. The club have put their faith in Anthony McGrath to take on the reins as head coach and continue the upward trajectory of the club.

Graham Gooch with young bowler Adam BeardGraham Gooch with young bowler Adam Beard

Having moved to the club as assistant head coach in 2016, the Yorkshireman was seen as a natural successor.

“I’m really honoured to take over such a great club,” McGrath beamed. “Chris started this journey and has done a fantastic job. We’ve a similar group of players this season and want to build and continue, pushing Essex forward.

“There’s expectation on the players’ shoulders now and teams will come after us, but that shows how we’ve grown. We’re a side that’s entertaining and we’ve always looked to win from whatever position. That will continue.”

Aided by former England all-rounder Dimi Mascarenhas as new assistant head coach, the pair hope to continue the huge success of the previous two campaigns.

Having tasted success on the County Championship scene, attention may focus on the white ball limited overs format, with Essex Eagles now harbouring hopes to flex their wings within Twenty20. “We want to be up there challenging for honours in every competition,” a bullish McGrath concluded.

AUSSIE INJECTION

Capitalising on momentum, Essex certainly have no plans to relinquish their domestic title. Strengthening their ranks with a short-term addition to their bowling armoury is 33-year-old Australian international Peter Siddle. Much like the inspired addition of Mohammad Amir last season, Essex will hope that the seasoned test specialist will prove influential both on and off the field for his five-match spell.

Tom WestleyTom Westley

Upon his arrival from Down Under, ECCC’s new number 64 waxed lyrical about the prospect of donning the Essex jersey. “It’s great to be over here amongst the boys. I’ve always enjoyed my time spent over here in England during the Ashes series with the Aussies and stints with other counties. Any opportunity I get to come over I’ll jump at it. I just want to get some wins for the boys. Hopefully we can continue on the success from last season.”

Proudly displaying gold trim on their whites this campaign, Siddle and his teammates began their defence of the 2018 Specsavers County Championship Division One with an impressive opening win at Chelmsford, defeating potential title rivals Lancashire.

As champions, they are fully aware that they cannot get away with being unknown quantities among their seven rival counties. However, with a winning mentality, there is every right for optimism for a third successive title success. An exciting summer awaits.

The County Championship winnersThe County Championship winners

Find out more

Head to essexcricket.org.uk to secure your T20 tickets and watch the Eagles in the Vitality Blast.

2017 winning campaign in numbers

- Unbeatable W10, D4, L0

- Won by a margin of 72pts

- Secured twice the number of wins as second placed Lancashire

- Champions with two games to spare

- ECCC’s seventh Championship title following success in 1979, 1983, 1984, 1986, 1991 and 1992.

- First side in over 10 years to win both divisions in successive seasons

- 75 wickets taken by Bowler of The Year Jamie Porter

- 147 of the team’s 247 wickets were taken by Jamie Porter and Simon Harmer

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