Last year Essex won the Bob Willis Trophy, the season before they won Division One of the County Championship as they did in 2017. Throw in a Vitality Blast trophy in 2019 and they have been the most successful county in recent years.
Few would bet against them adding to their burgeoning trophy cabinet this season too. There is a winning mentality at Fortress Chelmsford, as they call their home ground. It started with now England coach Chris Silverwood and has carried on with his successor Anthony McGrath.
They expect to win every game they play and quite often this mentality snatches victory from the jaws of defeat and has propelled them to win those four trophies in the last three seasons.
A huge part of that winning mentality is Simon Harmer. Signed in 2016 on a Kolpak contract, the South African spin bowler has taken wickets for fun since joining and it was no surprise that, following the change in eligibility criteria this season due to Brexit, Essex have signed him as an overseas player. Harmer has taken 255 wickets in first-class cricket in four seasons with 20 five-wicket hauls thrown in.
In the same time no other spinner has taken a five-wicket haul at Chelmsford, he has been that impressive. Harmer will have to be on his game though if Essex are to continue their impressive run. They will have to qualify from a group which contains Warwickshire and Nottinghamshire as Test Match Ground counties, a resurgent Durham, the always dangerous Worcestershire and last season’s surprise package Derbyshire. To qualify in the top two places in this group will be an achievement in itself.
The Essex squad has seen very little change over the winter and this will bring great stability for Anthony McGrath and captain Tom Westley. Everyone within the squad knows their role, from Sir Alistair Cook at the top of the innings, the dashing Adam Wheater behind the stumps and Essex’s other wicket machine Jamie Porter. All play their role and don’t be surprised if that role is a winning one. The bookies have them favourites for the LV= Insurance County Championship and in the top six favourites in both white-ball competitions too.
Outs: Rishi Patel (Leicestershire)
What more can be said about Simon Harmer. He wasn’t a big name in this country when he signed in 2016 but it’s safe to say he is now. He has been such a pivotal member of the squad, his cool, calm resolve, handy lower-order batting and gun slip fielding just add to the wickets he also takes. When Harmer succeeds generally Essex succeed. If he is missing for any period of time then there are a lot of wickets to find from elsewhere, however coaches, fans and players of the county will be hoping that doesn’t happen.
Player to Watch
Feroze Khushi stood out as a talented prospect when he appeared against the touring Indian side in 2018. He appeared to have so much time at the crease, his feet moved well and he wasn’t fazed by facing some of the worlds top bowlers despite his tender years. He had to wait until last season to make his first-class debut and managed four games in last season’s Bob Willis Trophy, scoring 125 runs at an average of 25 with one half century. With Dan Lawrence potentially away on England duty throughout the summer, expect Khushi to play more and develop even further and score even more runs.
Overseas Signings: Simon Harmer, Peter Siddle, Jimmy Neesham (T20)
How they’ll fare
It is hard to bet against Essex winning both first-class competitions this summer. They have the mentality and the firepower to do so, they should at least qualify in the top two slots and progress to the top group for the second stage of the competition. As always with white-ball cricket, so much is unknown. They seldom lose at Chelmsford and will be looking to recreate the momentum that took them all the way in the T20 Blast in 2019.
Opening Fixture: Essex CCC vs Worcestershire LV County Championship 8-11 April, Cloud FM County Ground, Chelmsford.
Season Odds (SkyBet)
LV County Championship : 5/1
Bob Willis Trophy: 5/1
Royal London One-Day Cup: 10/1
Vitality Twenty20 Blast: 10/1