England captain Alastair Cook is in the Essex side to face Derbyshire this week with both teams chasing an important win.
The hosts currently occupy bottom place in Division Two but there were signs of improvement in their last outing against Northamptonshire. Hundreds from the in-form Tom Westley and overseas star Jesse Ryder saw them achieve their highest second innings score for 13 years, but they ran out of time to force a victory.
The Eagles have tailed off dramatically after their opening match against Kent and now face an uphill battle to challenge for promotion. The addition of Cook should give the dressing room a lift, and, of course, if things go to plan, provide some much-needed runs at the top of the order. The bowlers have also struggled in 2015, with impressive youngster Jamie Porter the only one to reach 20 wickets so far. With Paul Grayson able to field his most experienced squad yet this campaign, the Essex faithful will be expecting a strong performance from their team.
Derbyshire have had a mixed start to the season but their County Championship form will have encouraged their supporters. Whilst they sit bottom of the T20 Blast North Group, they have managed to pick up two wins in the longer format of the game, putting them within touching distance of a promotion spot.
Wayne White was the hero against Kent last time out with his figures of six for 25 helping get his side over the line in a low-scoring contest. The loss of Martin Guptill to the New Zealand squad was a big blow but 18-year-old Matthew Critchley has filled the void admirably, scoring an unbeaten hundred in just his second first-class game. A lot of pressure will also be on Billy Godleman at the top of the order as he faces his former team. Mark Footitt has once again led the way with the ball for Derbyshire whilst another ex-Essex man in the shape of Tony Palladino will want to show his pedigree on his return to Chelmsford.
The match promises to be a tight tussle between two evenly-matched teams and could go a long way to deciding the outcome of the final County Championship Division Two table.
There is little doubt about the key man in the Essex squad this week as England captain Alastair Cook returns to the side for the first time this season. Cook has been back to his best in international colours in 2015 with two hundreds and four fifties to his name. The fixture bring back good memories, after his 181 at Chelmsford last year set up a big win against this week’s opponents. He will be hoping for more of the same as he looks to feast on a depleted opposition bowling attack. With Westley and Ryder also in scintillating form, the Eagles will be confident of improving on their poor return of eight batting bonus points this term.
The main man charged with restricting the strong Essex batting line up will be Mark Footitt. The left armer continues to stand out in Division Two with his combination of lethal pace and swing troubling batsmen across the country. As one of only two ever-presents in the Derbyshire squad this season he has already bowled over 200 overs, picking up 32 wickets at an average of 22. His economy rate has also been impressive, illustrating the control he has added to his game in recent years. Now aged 29, Footitt will be eager to show he has the skill and temperament for international cricket with the England captain watching on at the other end.
The inclusion of Alastair Cook in the team has resulted in Jaik Mickleburgh missing out. Monty Panesar remains on an indefinite break from cricket, whilst conditions may better suit seam bowlers so Jamie Porter returns after being rested against Northamptonshire.
Essex squad: Alastair Cook, Nick Browne, Tom Westley, Ravi Bopara, Jesse Ryder, Ryan ten Doeschate, James Foster, Graham Napier, Matt Salisbury, Jamie Porter, Aron Nihjjar
Derbyshire have been hit by an injury crisis in the seam bowling department with both Tom Taylor and Ben Cotton suffering from side strains. Graeme Welch will also be without overseas star Tillakaratne Dilshan who cannot make the trip to Chelmsford for personal reasons. The return of captain Wayne Madsen from a broken finger will boost the batting line up whilst Tom Knight provides the spin option.
Derbyshire squad: Wayne Madsen (C), Wes Durston, Scott Elstone, Mark Footitt, Billy Godleman, Chesney Hughes, Tom Knight, Tony Palladino, Tom Poynton (WK), Ben Slater, Shiv Thakor, Wayne White
Weather and conditions
Conditions are set fair in Chelmsford this week with temperatures set to increase as the match progresses. There will some cloud cover for the seamers who may also be assisted by a green tinge in the pitch. The highest score at the County Ground in 2015 is only 280 so it will be a surprise if this game ends in a draw.
Date: 14th – 17th June 2015
Ground: County Ground, Chelmsford
Umpires: Nigel Cowley and Jeff Evans
Odds (Bet365): Essex 8/11, Derbyshire Evens