Browne: Essex in good Nick for new campaign
PUBLISHED: 18:00 06 April 2017
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Opening batsman assesses squad for 2017
Opening batsman Nick Browne could well find himself facing the first ball of the 2017 SpecSavers County Championship Division One season and says Essex are ready for the new challenges that await them this summer.
Promoted to the top flight for the first time since 2010 after winning the Division Two title last year, they have signed international bowlers Neil Wagner, Mohammed Amir and Simon Harmer following the retirements of stalwarts Graham Napier and David Masters.
But those are the only new faces as Essex look to maintain their winning momentum with a largely settled squad and Browne siad: “I’ve got no worries about this side, I think we’ll be fine. We’ve got winners in this side. Our leadership group are all winners and want to win.
“‘Tendo’ wants to win and talks about winning, not just getting draws or staying in the game. We’re looking to win and if we go in with that mentality we’re good enough to compete at this level.
“It’s a great side. We’ve taken the momentum from last year into this year. The banter in the dressing room is brilliant, we all have a laugh and a good time.
“We’ve had a little chat about being a bit more steely, which we did very well last year, so we’ve got to take that into this year and it’s going to be more of a fight and we’ve got to show a bit more heart, which I’m sure we will do.
“We’ve got to stick together. It could be a tough year, it could be a brilliant year, but either way we’ve got to stick together.”
Essex certainly managed to do just that on their road to being crowned champions last year, as more often than not, somebody would come up with the goods when it was most needed with either a key innings of breakthrough with the ball.
Browne (1,046) was one of three Essex batsmen to pass 1,000 runs for the year, along with captain Ryan ten Doeschate (1,157) and Tom Westley (1,217), while young Dan Lawrence and James Foster also averaged above 40.
Alastair Cook helped out with three centuries when not captaining England and is available for the start of the new campaign having stepped down from his role with the national side, while Varun Chopra and Adam Wheather strengthened the order on their returns to the club towards the end of last season.
But there will only be so many batting places available and Browne added: “It’s obvious that we’ve got a strong batting line-up and it’s going to be tough for a couple of lads that miss out.
“It’s up to them to get back into the side and push us – if I’m in the side! – to be competitive. We will score enough runs, I know that, especially at Chelmsford.”
Dismissing opposition sides out twice to secure victory looks like being the bigger challenge for the squad, but Browne is backing the Essex bowling attack to come good after the significant losses of Napier and Masters, who combined to take 97 and 53 wickets respectively in all formats of the game in 2016.
“It’s so hard to fill those boots. They were two great bowlers for us and had brilliant years last year,” he added.
“But it will give opportunities to people like Aaron Beard and Matt Dixon, which is brilliant. They have got to put their hand up now and fight for a spot.
“Jamie Porter is looking strong and I think Wagner will do really well at the start, he’s an aggressive bowler. I’ve seen him a lot on TV with the Test side and he looks like he’s a good bowler.
“Mohammed Amir, hopefully he comes and is hungry to go and I’m sure he will take wickets and when you’ve got someone like Rav and Tendo who can bat so well and chip in with the ball (it’s a good thing).
“Rav had a great year last year with the ball, 40-odd wickets, so hopefully he can continue that form through.”
Tall left-arm seamer Paul Walter made his first-class debut and was subsequently given a contract last year, after starting the summer with Essex League side Hornchurch.
And Browne says there’s nothing to stop him forcing his way into the reckoning more regularly, along with Wanstead duo Kishen Velani and Aron Nijjar.
“It’s up to them to have a good second XI campaign and then push to get in the side,” he added.
“Paul Walter bowled quite well in Dubai and it’s up to him to push for a bowling spot now.
“Kish and Aron, there’s no reason why they can’t play, they’re all talented cricketers, so it’s up to them to do well and put their name in the hat.”
After their opening fixture with Lancashire this weekend, Essex visit last season’s runners-up Somerset and defending champions Middlesex in what is arguably a difficult start to life back in the top flight.
But Browne says they cannot fear anyone and have to adopt a positive mindset in all matches – or they could end up paying the price.
“It’s such a cliché, you’ve just got to look to the next game, but we don’t want to just look to survive,” he added.
“If we look to just survive, we’re going to go down. We’ve got to look to win games like we did last year, be aggressive, and take it to them, that’s it, simple as. We’ve got to bat long and be aggressive and disciplined when we bowl.”
Essex’s players will be able to let their hair down once and a while off the field, though, and Browne will make sure they do.
“I’m the social secretary. We had a good one on tour, that was good fun, so I’ve got to try and match that. It’s a massive part of this side and massive part of many teams,” he added.
“You’ve got to have fun and enjoy other people’s successes, which we did really well last year. I want to try and continue that and move forward with a bit more of a laugh off the field.”
But Essex will always have their game faces on once they cross the boundary, that is for certain.