Twenty-five years ago, in the summer of 1992, I was just finishing my first year of secondary school; my love of cricket was blossoming; “Rhythm is a Dancer” by Snap was number one in the charts, having knocked Jimmy Nail and “Ain’t No Doubt” off the top spot; and Essex won the County Championship for the second consecutive year, with Graham Gooch lifting the coveted trophy again.
Fast forward to 2017: I now teach in a secondary school; my love of cricket is stronger than ever; Sam Smith with “Too Good at Goodbyes” is number one; and Essex are lifting the County Championship trophy again, this time Ryan Ten Doeschate the man with his hands on the trophy.
Everyone involved will be hoping that Essex, like Sam Smith, are too good to say goodbye to the trophy for another 25 years – ain’t no doubt.
Essex went the whole season unbeaten in the Championship, winning ten of their 14 games. It could, however, have been very different and needed a monster of an innings from Dan Lawrence to stave off defeat by Lancashire in the opening game.
As I sat amongst the members on that day, the disconcerting voices could be heard. “If we stay up, I’ll be happy.” “It’s going to be a long season.” “We just can’t compete with these Test Match ground sides.” “It won’t be like last season!” coupled with sharp intakes of breath.
Those voices were wrong: it was like last season. They did finish top of the division they were in, they were comfortably the best side in that division and were deserved winners of the Championship.
Essex had a squad oozing with quality. Former England captain Alastair Cook was available and scored runs. Jamie Porter, a young fast bowler, was taking wickets for fun. Kolpak signing Simon Harmer was spinning his new side to victories. Add in experienced heads like Ravi Bopara, Ten Doeschate and James Foster with precocious talents like Tom Westley and Daniel Lawrence and excellent overseas signings Mohammed Amir and Neil Wagner, and it is easy to see why they won the title.
It wasn’t just the first-class game where Essex achieved, either. They also topped their group in the Royal London One-Day Cup, only losing one game in the qualifying stages, and narrowly lost out to eventual winners Nottinghamshire in the semi-final. It is rare for sides to perform on more than one front, but Essex managed it here and were unlucky not to add a Lord’s final to their glorious season.
One front where they did not achieve was in the shortest format of the game, finishing a disappointing eighth in the South Group. Although only two points separated them and the fourth and final qualifying place, Essex would have been hoping for at least a quarter-final spot and will be looking to rectify that next season.
If you had offered this season and its achievements to all Essex fans, players and staff before the season started they would’ve snapped your hand off. Now, as they go into the off-season, head coach Chris Silverwood and assistant coach Anthony McGrath will be plotting how to recreate the 2017 season. This time next year they will be hoping their rhythm and dancing is needed to celebrate another successful season.
SSCC: 1st, Division One (Champions)
T20 Blast: 8th, South Group
RLODC: Semi-Final (1st, South Group)
SSCC: Nick Browne, 952 runs
T20 Blast: Varun Chopra, 427 runs
RLODC: Alastair Cook, 636 runs
SSCC: Jamie Porter, 75 wickets
T20 Blast: Paul Walter, 15 wickets
RLODC: Neil Wagner, 14 wickets
Player of the Season:
You don’t win cricket matches if you don’t take wickets, and in Jamie Porter Essex have a wicket-taker and then some. His 75 first-class wickets propelled them to the title. Consider the 16 wickets he took in the shorter formats of the game as well, and it’s clear why he was voted Cricket Writers player of the year and booked a place on the plane to Australia with the England Lions this winter.
Dan Lawrence showed this season that he has the class, the temperament and ability to succeed at the highest level. He scored runs and lots of them – over 1000 in all competitions – and showed the application to bat for long periods of time. Had he not batted for 427 minutes – 333 balls – to save the first game of the season against Lancashire, how different the season may have been for the men from Chelmsford.
He can bowl some decent off-spin, too, although with the emergence of Simon Harmer he didn’t have to very often this season. With all this, it is no surprise that Porter will have his Essex team-mate on the plane with him for the Lions tour.
Could have done better:
Adam Wheater, who returned to the club after leaving Hampshire last season, would have been hoping for a greater comeback. He started the season as first choice wicketkeeper in the County Championship, but a lack of runs saw the return to the side of James Foster who scored more runs at a better average. As Foster’s career comes to an end, Essex will be needing Wheater to step up, as they hoped he would this season.
Need to work on:
While Essex’s batsmen shared the runs around, they will be disappointed that not one of them achieved the magical 1000 run mark. Nick Browne came closest, and had Cook played every game I’m sure he would have done it, but what they will look for next year are batsmen to dominate in the same way that Porter and Harmer did with the ball.
While Essex won the County Championship and reached the semi-finals of the Royal London One-Day Cup, not qualifying for the T20 Blast quarter-finals will have hurt the club. Next season, this is something they’ll want to improve on.
It was a near perfect season for the Eagles: they won the big one and came close to a Lord’s final in the 50-over competition. Had it not been for a slightly disappointing T20 campaign, it would have been a perfect season.