It’s been a winter of transition in Chelmsford with Essex heading into the new season with a new chairman, coach and captain.
The club made it an unwanted hat-trick of third place finishes in County Championship Division Two last season leading to discontent amongst members.
Defeats to Birmingham Bears and Yorkshire in the limited overs quarter-finals led to a major overhaul both on and off the field.
Former Essex legend Ronnie Irani was appointed Chairman and soon left his mark by sacking head coach Paul Grayson. Although he led the county to two trophies, Grayson’s tenure will be remembered as one of underachievement given the talented players at his disposal.
The vacancy reportedly attracted interest from former international coaches Mickey Arthur and Andy Moles but the selection panel opted to give Chris Silverwood the job.
The ex-Middlesex, Yorkshire and England seamer was bowling coach since 2010 and now has the challenge of leading Essex to success.
Last year was a case of ‘so near yet so far’ for the Eagles as they narrowly missed out in all three competitions.
Three defeats in their first five Championship matches made it difficult to recover and despite an end of season resurgence after Silverwood took the reins, it was Surrey and Lancashire who gained promotion.
Star performers in the longer form of the game included opener Nick Browne who struck five centuries and 22-year-old Jamie Porter who picked up 50 scalps with the ball.
The Chelmsford outfit also had a poor start in the T20 Blast but came back strongly to sneak into the knockout stages. It was all in vain though as they came unstuck against the Birmingham outfit for the second consecutive year.
It was a similar story in the Royal London One-Day Cup where Yorkshire proved too strong at Chelmsford.
The improvement of Tom Westley was the biggest plus from these ultimately disappointing campaigns as the team struggled to consistently put performances together.
The departures of Mark Pettini and Reece Topley will be a blow in the shorter formats heading into the new season but any team possessing the firepower of Jesse Ryder and Ravi Bopara should be able to challenge.
With Ryan ten Doeschate taking over the four-day captaincy and Bopara skippering the one-day teams, expectations will once again be high for a first trophy since 2008 to get Silverwood off to a winning start as a coach.
Ins: Wahab Riaz (Overseas, T20 only), Adam Milne (Overseas, T20 only), Aaron Beard (Academy), Ashar Zaidi (Sussex), Matt Quinn (Unattached), Matt Dixon (Unattached)
Outs: Reece Topley (Hampshire), Mark Pettini (Leicestershire), Monty Panesar (Released), Matt Salisbury (Released), Saf Imtiaz (Released), Greg Smith (Retired)
Ravi Bopara has been a vital component of Essex’s team since 2002 and will need another good year to help propel his side forward.
Now aged 30, the all-rounder should be in his peak but it appears his international days are over as England opt for a younger line up. He also missed out on an IPL contract meaning he will be available for the full season in Chelmsford.
By his high standards he had a lean 2015 with the bat in the County Championship, failing to hit a single century.
It’s hoped giving him T20 Blast and One-Day Cup captaincy will boost his confidence and drive the club towards the elusive trophy.
Player to Watch
Many Essex supporters will be hoping that 2016 is the year where Daniel Lawrence can turn potential into match-winning performances.
Already the county’s youngest centurion after scoring 161 against Surrey, he struggled to replicate that form as the season progressed. Lawrence possesses both patience and panache, a combination which has seen him rack up three centuries for England Under-19s.
A fine fielder and a promising leg-break bowler, highlighted by his five wickets in the recent Under-19 World Cup, the next challenge for the 18-year-old is to secure his place in the Eagles one day teams following the departure of Pettini.
Essex have a strong tradition of producing opening batsmen for England and it is difficult to bet against Lawrence following in the footsteps of Alastair Cook and Graham Gooch.
New Zealander Jesse Ryder remains a key player for Essex with both bat and ball. He contributed 1,312 runs across all formats last season with his T20 strike rate of 166 particularly eye-catching.
His seamers were most effective in the County Championship where he used the helpful conditions at Chelmsford to snare 44 victims. With just one year left on his contract, Ryder will be desperate to sign off in style.
The second overseas slot in the T20 Blast will be shared by Wahab Riaz and Adam Milne. Riaz will play the first seven matches and brings with him a wealth of T20 experience including spells at rivals Surrey and Kent.
Paceman Milne is more of an unknown quantity but has an excellent record for New Zealand.
With both players fresh from the T20 World Cup, the Essex fans will hope their speed and guile can replace the gap left by Topley.
How they’ll fare
Essex start every season with high hopes and 2016 is no different. The new management team will want an instant response from the players and they appear to have the blend of youth and experience required to taste success.
Having the likes of Cook, ten Doeschate and Bopara available at the start of April should help them get off to a good start and the bowling department now appears to have more depth.
However, with only one promotion spot available in the County Championship they may be slightly behind Sussex and Worcestershire in the pecking order.
The biggest opportunity therefore remains in the one day arena where they will be hoping to erase the memories of the past two years by advancing past the quarter final stage.
With a number of experienced players likely to retire at the end of the season they may never get a better chance to add to their trophy cabinet.
v Gloucestershire, Sunday 10th April at Chelmsford
Specsavers County Championship Division Two: 4/1
Royal London One-Day Cup: 14/1
Natwest Twenty20 Blast: 11/1