By recent standards, 2021 was undoubtedly a disappointing one for the Eagles. They were unable to successfully retain the Bob Willis Trophy through their failure to qualify for Division One, but that they were able to finish top of Division Two was some compensation, as well as being a reminder of what they are really capable of. This was followed up by an average white ball season where they reached the semi-finals of the Royal London One-Day Cup but were knocked out of the group stage in the T20 Blast. For a club with the recent history like Essex, they will be well aware that this does not reach the lofty standards they have set for themselves in recent years.
The squad has been relatively stable over the winter with not many incomings, and with the need to fill gaps in the batting department caused by the retirements of Varun Chopra and former captain Ryan ten Doeschate. The red ball batting was undoubtedly one area for improvement, with only Dan Lawrence averaging over 40 in red ball cricket for the Eagles and it appears likely that he will not be spending much time on the County circuit in 2022 if his performances in the Caribbean are anything to go by.
As a result, the experienced heads of Sir Alistair Cook, Nick Browne, and Tom Westley will need to step up and show their undoubted quality. Josh Rymell also showed some promise with the bat in white ball cricket and will be looking to fill the void left by Dan Lawrence’s expected absence on England duty. In white ball cricket the batting looks like it perhaps lacks a little explosive firepower, so new signing Daniel Sams will be looking to provide a little X-Factor in the T20 Blast with his big hitting and left arm seam bowling.
It will also be interesting to see how new signing Matt Critchley fits into the side. In early season conditions he may not do much bowling but did show quality with the bat by scoring 1000 first class runs for Derbyshire last season. Simon Harmer also returns as an overseas player, and it is good to see him getting back into the South Africa side. With the Proteas touring England in 2022, Essex may be without a key player for crucial parts of the season, so the likes of Critchley, and Aron Nijjar will need to step up to fill the spin bowling void.
One highlight from 2021 was undoubtedly the performances of Sam Cook who led the seam attack with aplomb with 58 wickets at 14.43, and it is pleasing to see him get some England recognition by getting on the Lions tour to Australia. He was ably backed up by Jamie Porter, Peter Siddle and Netherlands seamer Shane Snater, who showed some real promise with the red ball in 2021. With Siddle heading to Somerset in 2022, the Eagles moved quickly to snap up under-rated Australian seamer Mark Steketee for the first 6 matches of the County Championship. Steketee has just come off the back of an excellent Sheffield Shield season for Queensland which saw him finish as the leading wicket taker and as a result, selected for the Australian test tour of Pakistan. He will undoubtedly be a handful in early season conditions around the county circuit and may prove to be an astute signing. The bowling attack will be guided by former Australia seamer Mick Lewis who has joined as bowling coach, and he will have a rich group to work with.
Overall, the squad still looks strong, and they will be expecting to be challenging at the top end of Division One, but the batting unit will need to back up their high-quality seam bowling unit if they are going to be challenging for honours, and the County Championship perhaps looks their best bet for honours this season.
It will be hard to look past Simon Harmer who has fast-earned legend status in Chelmsford, but the batting unit needs to fire and Tom Westley will be a key cog in the batting unit and captain. He scored 631 runs at 37.11 with three first-class 100s in 18 innings at number three, which shows that when he got in, he went big but also shows real inconsistency. He is one of the better players on the county circuit and knows that a fast start to the season may give him one last shot at deserved England honours.
One to Watch
With places in the batting line up coming up for grabs after the retirement of Ryan ten Doeschate, Dan Lawrence’s expected absence on England duty, and with what many expect to be Sir Alistair Cook’s last season in Essex colours, there will be opportunities for young talent to fill those voids. Last season Josh Rymell showed real promise with his white ball performances and dashing, stylish stroke play, he will certainly be one to keep an eye on this season.