34 years and two days after clinching their second County Championship victory, Essex have won the Division One title in their first year after being promoted, the club’s first win since 1992, after nearest rivals Lancashire lost at Somerset.
Essex’s victory at Edgbaston on Thursday by an innings and 56 runs, combined with Lancashire claiming just three bonus points at Taunton, meant the Red Rose needed to win to delay Essex’s celebrations until next week.
But having resumed the fourth day 45 runs ahead with just two second innings wickets remaining, Lancashire lasted only 25 minutes as Craig Overton bowled Kyle Jarvis and had Tom Bailey lbw leaving Somerset a chase of just 68.
The victory was not entirely straightforward. Eddie Byrom fell with 49 required before Marcus Trescothick decided to take to leg-spinner Matt Parkinson, slog sweeping him for six.
But a ball later he was caught playing the same shot and James Hildreth fell edging to short gully the very next ball. Captain Tom Abell swept Stephen Parry for the winning runs as they claimed a seven-wicket victory.
It left Lancashire an unassailable 56 points behind the champions, who claim the County Championship crown for the seventh time.
This success serves as an affront to those who questioned whether they could make the step up from Division Two cricket. An unbeaten season, including eight wins, with two matches remaining leaves no doubt that they have been, far and away, the best team this season.
A special seven-hour Dan Lawrence hundred salvaged a draw against Lancashire in their opening game of the season before a win at Taunton, spearheaded by Alastair Cook’s 110 in a third day chase of 257, got them going.
Five consecutive wins between June and August put Essex in the box seat and a rain-affected draw last week at Old Trafford meant any realistic chance of them being caught was relatively slim.
This has been a special season, not least for the achievement but for the manner in which it has come about. They boast the two leading wicket-takers in the division in quick Jamie Porter (64) and Kolpak off-spinner Simon Harmer (63), while eight batsmen have hit hundreds.
In Chris Silverwood’s two seasons as head coach they have now won back to back titles in both divisions. “I don’t think there’s any magic formula,” captain Ryan ten Doeschate told Sky on Thursday, instead heaping praise on the relaxed environment created by the coaching team.
“I think the most important thing is just allowing guys not to fear, trying to get your best performance.” It is no wonder that England are interested in Silverwood as their new bowling coach.
Spoons, as he’s affectionately known by the players, has now won two Championships – the first as a player at Yorkshire in 2001.
He has a side formed largely of Essex locals with a handful of overseas talents – ten Doeschate, Harmer, Mohammad Amir, Neil Wagner – complementing a strong, devoted lineup, a refreshing sight in a year where onlookers have been critical of the plenitude of Kolpaks and overseas stars.
The first non-Test hosting team to win the Championship since Sussex ten years ago, Essex’s triumph is a remarkable tale and one that county cricket lovers, no matter where one’s loyalties lie, can enjoy.
At the other end, Somerset’s thumping win could pay dividends in just two weeks’ time as they look to stave off relegation. It drags Middlesex and Yorkshire – both of whom competed for the title alongside the West County outfit a year ago – into a dogfight at the bottom of the table.
Rain at Uxbridge denies Middlesex the chance of a vital win and, at the time of writing, having picked up two bonus points, they will be two points adrift of sixth. Yorkshire are set for a ten point draw at Surrey, putting them three points above last season’s champions.
Somerset travel to Surrey next week, Yorkshire play host to Warwickshire while Middlesex welcome Lancashire to Lord’s.