By recent standards, 2022 was undoubtedly a disappointing one for the Eagles. An average season in the Championship where the batters struggled for consistent runs, underpinned by a high performing bowling attack. This was followed up by an average white ball season where they eliminated in Group Stage of the Royal London One-Day Cup but fared slightly better in the T20 Blast by reaching the quarter finals. 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 outgoings, and with no new faces expected after Australian all-rounder Will Sutherland had to pull out of his red-ball deal with the club due to a stress fracture injury. Simon Harmer also returns as an overseas player, and it is good to see him getting back into the South Africa side.
The red ball batting was undoubtedly one area for improvement, with only Sir Alistair Cook and Paul Walter averaging over 40 in red ball cricket for the Eagles and no batter reaching the 1000 run landmark. The batting quality is clearly there in the squad, so the club are showing faith in an experienced but inconsistent line up. Feroze Khushi showed flashes of quality in the longer format, alongside his white ball performances, he looks like an exciting prospect as long as the club show sufficient faith and patience with him.
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. With the Royal London One Day Cup reduced to the status of a development competition, it will be interesting to see the progression of exciting young players such as Jamal Richards, Robin Das, and Luc Benkenstein. There are concerns the club not producing the numbers of young players that it used to, it is good to see these talented young players given opportunities at a higher level.
One highlight from 2022 was undoubtedly the performances of Sam Cook who led the seam attack with aplomb with 51 wickets at 16.23, and it is pleasing to see him get some England recognition by getting on the Lions tour to Sri Lanka, and another strong start to the season may keep him in contention in a busy international summer. He was ably backed up by Netherlands seamer Shane Snater, who had a strong summer with both bat and ball last year. Jamie Porter will also be looking to return to his usual high standards after a disappointing 2022.
Overall, the squad still looks strong, and they will be expecting to be challenging at the top end of Division One. Perhaps the biggest issue at Chelmsford is the quality of pitches, especially after the embarrassing 2-day defeat to Lancashire which lasted a total of 115 overs. This does little to help the batters produce consistent performances. If these improve the batting unit will be better placed 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.
Outs: Adam Wheater (Ret) Jack Plom (Rel)
It will be hard to look past Simon Harmer who has legend status in Chelmsford, but the batting unit needs to fire and Dan Lawrence will be a key cog in the batting unit. He scored 420 runs at 22.10 with 1 first class 100’s in 19 innings, after an unfortunately timed injury saw Harry Brook jump ahead of him for England honours under a regime he would look likely to flourish under. He is one of the better players on the county circuit and knows that a fast start to the season may give him another shot at deserved England honours.
One to Watch
With places in the batting line up coming up for grabs in what is an experienced squad, and with Sir Alistair Cook expected to retire within the next year or two, there are places up for grabs. Feroze Khushi perhaps looks best placed to make a first XI spot his own in all formats. The dashing right hander scored his maiden First Class hundred against Kent last year, and alongside an excellent start to List A cricket looks to have real promise.
In recent times has an overseas player made more of an impact for a county than Simon Harmer has for Essex? Yes, I know a number of those years he played a Kolpak signing, but I would imagine 17 other counties would snap your hand off for half the output Essex have had from Harmer and it is no surprise he is back in the Chelmsford dressing room this Summer. They will be hoping he adds to his 327 wickets for the club in First Class Cricket and the 78 he has in T20 cricket too. He has been the lynch pin in Essex’s recent success, and they will be hoping for more of the same.
It is another returning star for Essex in T20 cricket too, with Daniel Sams coming back for a second stint. The Australian all rounder enjoyed success last season taking 14 wickets and scoring 165 runs and again the men from Chelmsford will be hoping for an even bigger return this time around.
Potential Championship Eleven
- Alistair Cook
- Nick Browne
- Tom Westley (C)
- Dan Lawrence
- Feroze Khushi
- Matt Critchley
- Adam Rossington (wk)
- Simon Harmer
- Shane Snater
- Sam Cook
- Jamie Porter
How they’ll fare.
Anything less than titles and trophies is deemed failure at Chelmsford after recent years. Last year they will be hoping was a blip and they will be looking back towards the top of the table, although their lack of squad strengthening may see them finish slightly away from the top again this season. White ball cricket may well be their best bet of a title and don’t be surprised to see the Eagles at Finals Day again this season.
LVCC Middlesex vs Essex, Lords Cricket Ground London
LV County Championship – 4/1
T20 Blast 16/1