March 26, 2013

County Championship, Division Two

Promise requires conversion

Ben Duggan
Captain and wicketkeeper James Foster will again have to bear a heavy load  © Getty Images
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Goodness me, we could do with a barnstorming cricket season couldn't we? I mean like a real humdinger. Perhaps it was Essex's rank showing last term, along with the awful weather, that means I'm really hungry for some quality cricket this year.

With ten games affected and over 1,800 overs lost to rain, Essex's bid for promotion was horribly derailed in 2012. After winning the opening game against Gloucestershire, there wasn't another Championship win until early August. This year, with seven four-day games scheduled before the end of May, a good start will be imperative.

Lancashire and Hampshire aside, this looks to be a pretty poor second division. Peter Moores will expect to lead Lanky straight back up, leaving the rest fighting it out over other slot. I'd expect serious competition to come from Hants and Kent but, really, Essex should be looking to make a serious attempt at promotion this year. If Derbyshire can do it, then there has to be hope for the rest.

If improvement is sought after in the Championship, then it will be positively demanded in the limited-overs formats. There was a disappointing, if predictable, defeat to Somerset last year in the T20 quarter-finals and the CB40 effort was shocking, with just four victories from 12 group games.

A particular bonus this season might be the full availability of Ravi Bopara. I rather fear that England have given up on him now. That could mean that he will have a clear mind to go at this season hard, without the worry of England (and no IPL distractions either). I've seen knocks from him at Chelmsford that have been up there with some of the very best, the talent is undoubtedly there, but who knows what goes on in his head when he puts an England kit on?

The exciting core of youngsters at the club really needs to push on. Ben Foakes, Reece Topley, Tymal Mills, Jaik Mickleburgh, Tom Westley have all represented England Under-19s in recent years and have shown much promise at county level, however, it seems that each step forward is quickly followed by another back. Big efforts will need to come from James Foster, Ryan ten Doeschate and Graham Napier again. They were among the few to emerge with any real credit last season.

The signings this year will need to improve, Alviro Petersen was a huge disappointment and each of Harbhajan Singh, Greg Smith and Charl Willoughby yielded very little. Oh for a Chris Wright or Tony Palladino. Instead, Saj Mahmood will have to do. He's come in from Lancashire and will hopefully have a point to prove, although he tends to have the adjective "wayward" permanently attached to his match reports from memory.

Rob Quiney has also joined for the first three months of the season. Having only seen him in his two appearances for the Australia Test side, I can't say I'm overly excited about his arrival, but with the Ashes here this summer he'll hopefully be fired-up.

Off the field I read the news about the redevelopment of the ground with dread. I hate all of these football-style upgrades of cricket grounds. I can't see the need for it myself and there are bigger and wealthier clubs that have 'upgraded' their grounds and now find themselves saddled with huge debts. Essex have - in recent years at least - done well with getting punters through the door, so why get greedy? Besides, when they build on top of the car park where on earth am I going to park?

Likely Championship side
Westley
Mickleburgh
Quiney/Shah
Bopara
Pettini
Ten Doeschate
Foster (capt/wk)
Napier
Craddock
Topley
Mills

What I love I love the spectator knowledge at Chelmsford, it's a 'proper' cricket area and people love the game.

What I'd change The coach, currently Paul Grayson. I don't see the plan and where Essex are going.

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Ben Duggan is a former sportswriter for the Press Association and now spends his time copywriting and writing about cricket. He tweets here

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Posted by   on (March 28, 2013, 15:24 GMT)

No David Master's mention, and not in your line up...Criminal

Posted by Bearded_Lefty on (March 28, 2013, 14:25 GMT)

There is no Masters in the Championship team above. Do you know something I don't? He's certainly be in there if he's available, he's probably our best player. I know Foster but bowlers are more important than batsmen, though keepers are important too. Anyway, why no David Masters?

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ben Duggan
Ben Duggan trained as a sports journalist ten years ago and trawled around the south-east of England covering many different sports for Press Association. Now he spends his time copywriting and writing about cricket. He took to playing again as he turned 30. When he last looked he had a batting average of 1.14, but he refuses to accept he should bat anywhere other than five. @benduggan

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