Essex need a change at the top
Hope springs eternal, unless you're an Essex fan at the moment it seems. Two games into the season and dreams of a return to Division One look misguided at best and there won't exactly be a rush to the bookies to lump on any sort of success in the one-day format.
It is time for a change at the top. Paul Grayson has been in charge for six years and Essex are moving nowhere other than backwards. Some of the decisions already this season look utterly bizarre. Saj Mamood, signed from Lancashire in the winter, finds himself playing for the second XI despite an injury to David Masters, while the decision to bat Ben Foakes at No. 3 instead of Ravi Bopara is, well, just plain odd and a run of failures will do nothing to help Foakes' confidence.
There is little doubt that IPL pair Ryan ten Doeschate and Owais Shah are big misses in the batting line up. It is difficult not to feel some sympathy for the club, as initially there were rumblings that they wanted to adopt the Nottinghamshire 'no IPL' rule for their players, but for whatever reason this doesn't seem to have been implemented. Despite some misgivings about Shah, he averaged a shade under 50 last year in the four-day format and ten Doeschate weighed in with 45.77. Luckily Bopara was not taken in this year's IPL auction. Alastair Cook makes a rare and extremely welcome return to the side for the next two games and the timing couldn't have been better as Essex take on the two sides heavily fancied for promotion this year, in Hampshire and Lancashire.
A real bugbear for Essex fans is the continuing trend of players departing to other counties and prospering. Varun Chopra and Chris Wright played starring roles as Warwickshire won the Championship last year, while Tony Palladino led Derbyshire to promotion and next week sees the return of Adam Wheater with Hampshire. Given the way he has started his career down at the Rose Bowl, it seems that he's not likely to buck the trend.
Wheater may have been something of a different case given his desire to keep wicket on a regular basis. With James Foster still going so strong and Foakes a promising reserve option, Wheater's departure was perhaps inevitable but the club's steadfast refusal to negotiate with him over his keeping ambitions looks naive, and it seems only a matter of time before they'll be more lamenting about what could have been.
So if Grayson were to go, who might the replacement be? Personally I'd love to see Ottis Gibson given the job. He's done a remarkable job in charge of West Indies and would surely love the opportunity to coach in England. Like so many counties, Essex seem to fall back on the 'old boy' routine and it's time to move away from that at Chelmsford. There needs to be a fresh approach, new ideas and a kick up the backside for the squad if there's going to be a reversal in fortunes anytime soon.
Given the considerable talent at Essex it seems ridiculous that there is any sign of struggle. Graham Napier has started the season well. Tom Westley continues to look the part and Reece Topley continues to impress despite his tender years. However, a considerable bone of contention is the way players such as Tymal Mills and Maurice Chambers seem to have stagnated. With players seemingly desperate to play Division One cricket (for this read 'earn more cash') Essex are in danger of wasting a generation of talent if there's not a promotion tilt soon. Right now, that feels like an eternity away.
Ben Duggan is a former sportswriter for the Press Association and now spends his time copywriting and writing about cricket. He tweets here