Cricket: Essex ready for title defence
PUBLISHED: 18:30 12 April 2018
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With the exception of Mohammad Amir - who only played two and a half games in the Championship, albeit one to devastating effect - champions Essex retain the same squad for their title defence.
In addition, the former Australian Test bowler Peter Siddle will play the part of Amir for the first five Championship games after which Neil Wagner returns to reprise his role in the success of 2017.
Furthermore, the acquisition of all-rounder Matt Coles will bolster both bowling and batting.
While Essex have the resources necessary to mount a successful campaign, much will depend on the recruitment programmes of Division One rivals who were left foundering by 72 points – and more – last season.
In Alastair Cook, Nick Browne, Tom Westley, Varun Chopra and veteran captain Ryan ten Doeschate, to name just five, Essex have a batting unit that can put runs on the board.
And with Jamie Porter and Simon Harmer (147 wickets between them), plus Siddle/Wagner and back-up from the likes of Sam Cook, Paul Walter and Matt Quinn, the bowlers are capable of knocking over teams twice. Again, there is more than adequate cover for every position, every eventuality.
The loss of head coach Chris Silverwood to England, while regrettable, may not be so keenly felt as his able deputy Anthony McGrath steps up.
The arrival of Dimi Mascarenhas as No2 looks a shrewd move as his experience should improve Essex’s white-ball challenge, particularly in the T20 Blast where Australian leg-spinner Adam Zampa has been signed to cut back on runs conceded.
Captain: Ryan ten Doeschate.
Head coach: Anthony McGrath.
Overseas Players: Peter Siddle (Australia; first five Championship matches); Neil Wagner (New Zealand; from May to end of July with option to extend; all formats); Adam Zampa (Australia; T20 only).
Other ins: Matt Coles (Kent), Feroze Khushi (Academy).
Outs: Kishen Velani (released).
MAN ON A MISSION
Three weeks after lifting the Specsavers County Championship trophy, Essex made a decisive, if controversial move to bolster their playing strengths. Into a settled, winning and harmonious squad came the imposing figure of Kent all-rounder Matt Coles, he of well-documented off- and on-field misdemeanours. It looked an unnecessary punt. However, the 27-year-old is at a stage where he needs to put regrets behind him and make his undoubted talents less mercurial, and more consistent. Essex say they have taken him as they find him, and been impressed with his application thus far. It might prove to be an inspired signing.
ONE TO WATCH
Essex have long fantasised about adding a ‘mystery’ spinner to their T20 armoury. In the Australian leggie Adam Zampa they feel they have found their man. Zampa arrives in mid-summer with a reputation for being hard to get away. Indeed, his economy rate in T20s for Australia is a parsimonious 6.00, rising to 7.05 throughout his career in the shortest format. The Eagles will employ his clever changes of pace and flight variations, as well as his wicket-taking ability, in the middle overs in an attempt to stem the flood of runs which have often been their undoing.
With approximately two-thirds of the first-team squad coming through the Essex Academy, the champions have an abundance of local heroes. But none arguably more local than Sam Cook, who was born and raised within five minutes of The Cloudfm County Ground in Chelmsford. The strike bowler claimed 18 wickets, and two five-wicket hauls, in the final four Specsavers County Championship games of last season to earn instant ‘hero’ status. With a first professional contract in his back pocket, the 20-year-old former Loughborough University student has the nascent ability to build on that stunning start to his career.