Essex move into a challenging position in the Vitality Blast
- Credit: Nick Wood/TGS Photo
After securing two Vitality Blast wins in three days last week, the Essex Eagles moved into a challenging position for a top-four place in the South Group which would see them reach the knockout stages of the competition that won two years ago.
Following a humbling defeat to Kent when skipper Simon Harmer accused his side of failing to play “smart cricket”, the side responded to the South African’s criticism with impressive victories against Somerset and Glamorgan.
Now with three matches left to play in their qualifying group, they find themselves just 2 points behind fourth-placed Sussex Sharks whom they meet at Hove on Friday.
But after that clash on the South Coast, the Eagles white-ball cricket is put on hold for a week whilst they turn their attentions to four-day cricket and a County Championship contest with Derbyshire starting on Sunday.
And they will have to do without the services of Dan Lawrence for both matches.
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The right-hander, who celebrates his 24th birthday next week, has been called up by England for their forthcoming white ball series with Pakistan after the entire squad, coaching staff and management team that were involved in the recent series with Sri Lanka were quarantined following an outbreak of Covid-19 within the party.
Additionally, Essex Head Coach Anthony McGrath will temporarily join the England coaching staff for the Pakistan ODI & T20 Series as cover for members of the affected England coaching staff.
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McGrath will link-up with fellow Yorkshireman Chris Silverwood, the combination having successfully masterminded Essex to a first County Championship title in 25 years back in 2017.
Meanwhile the match in Derby offers Nick Browne an opportunity to add to a phenomenal personal record.
The 30 year-old left-hander can boast an amazing success story against the Midland county.
He has faced their attack on 7 occasions in his first-class career and can reflect on a prosperous haul of runs to his name, 853 in fact achieved at an incredible average of 213.25.
Those statistics include two unbeaten centuries (one was his maiden first-class hundred) plus two double-centuries of which one was unbeaten and additionally two two fifties.
The self-effacing left-hander, who attended Trinity Catholic High school in Woodford Green as did fellow county colleague Lawrence, admits he is at a loss to explain his remarkable success story when facing the Midland county.
"I really have no idea why I do so well against them, I must have had a couple of decent wickets to play on,” he said.
“Someone recently mentioned to me about my average against Derbyshire being over 200, I hadn’t realised that and that’s ridiculous! “
The two teams meet in the final Group One round of County Championship matches and Essex are still hoping to achieve at top-two finish from their six team group which would see them move into Division One for the last four matches and the opportunity of being crowned County Champions once again.
Browne is likely to open the innings with his usual partner, former England Test captain Alastair Cook ,and Browne admits that he relishes their partnership.
“To open the batting with him is unbelievable and I’m sure I’m the envy of a lot of other openers around the country,” he admitted.
“To bat with him is fantastic and to be able to learn off a guy like that is brilliant.
“I regard myself as so fortunate.”
So does he still get nervous when walking out to open the innings with England’s leading run-scorer in Test cricket and the fifth highest Test run-scorer of all time?
“At first, I did feel pressure but it was a healthy pressure if you like because I was keen to how him how well I could play,” Browne acknowledged.
“Of course, you want to show everyone how good you are but especially the England captain as he was when I first opened the batting with him.
“But he was superb and encouraged me all the time and now I just see it as a partnership that needs to try and see off the new ball the best way we can.
“But I love batting with him, we have fun and he is truly one of my good mates. It seems ridiculous to say that about someone who I watched so much on TV and is a legend in the game.
“Hopefully, he’ll be batting for us for a few more years and we can enjoy some more decent partnerships together which would be brilliant for me and the team.”
The pair have posted two century opening stands when playing against Derbyshire, both of which laid the foundations for Essex totals in excess of 400 that proved to be sufficient for innings’ victories on both occasions.
The second of those came earlier this season when the teams met at Chelmsford.
Now a third in the forthcoming fixture would be welcome as Essex seek to complete the “double” over Derbyshire and record the win that could pave the way for a place on Division One and the opportunity of challenging for another County Championship title.