August 16, 2013

Essex hope to beckon Indian summer

Despite their struggles, Essex are somehow in a strong position as 2013 reaches the business end. The signing of Gautaum Gambhir could herald a successful conlusion

It feels like the longer I watch cricket, the less I understand it. Just how is it that that Essex can perform so damn well in the white ball format of the game but look less than spectacular when the ball is red?

June, July and August have seen Essex put something of a smile back on the Chelmsford faithful's faces, cumulating in the brilliant performance at Trent Bridge that saw them shock Nottinghamshire and join the party at Finals Day.

It was always going to be during this point of the season that James Foster's men really excelled. The seemingly obvious decision to focus on the shorter format, infuriating as it is, once again seems to be bearing fruit. And another final at Lord's in the Yorkshire Bank 40 final isn't beyond the realms of possibility.

What's been fantastic to see is some of the big names hitting form. Ryan ten Doeschate's imperious 82 against Nottinghamshire in that quarter-final didn't grab the headlines that Shaun Tait's hat-trick did, but it was just as important and he was rewarded with the Man of the Match award. He's also put in some strong performances in the YB40, as has Owais Shah, who when on song is still an utter joy to watch. David Masters has again proved his brilliance and continues to defy his 35 years. How they must still weep over in Kent at his exit and constant success at Essex. Graham Napier also continues to make a mockery of England selectors who have ignored his one-day form over the years.

Despite the euphoria of getting to Edgbaston, on paper it looks to be the hardest Finals Day in the competition's history. Common sense suggests that only a shock of biblical proportions will stop Hampshire lifting the trophy again. That said, I think Northamptonshire have been the next best team this year after Hampshire, so reaching the final itself looks like it could be an achievement.

One thing I'm hoping for is that Essex get a real bounce from their appearance at Edgbaston and take it into the Championship. The four-day performance has been a let-down this year (again) and a promotion bid seems to be out of the question, but a good end of season could see some faith restored. I find it difficult to fathom why teams a) put their eggs in the one-day basket and b) can be so effective in one competition and so poor in another. Northamptonshire have proved that with the right application you can do well across all formats of the game.

I really do fear for Essex next year with the new format of spreading the T20 over the summer, I worry that the momentum that's put together in the middle of the season could be unhinged. Somewhere along the line there's going to have to be a rethink about performances across the board.

I can't let the signing of Gautam Gambhir go without a word or two. On paper it's a tremendous acquisition for the club - a real top drawer capture. I'll personally be sad to see Hamish Rutherford go, the lad has tremendous talent and I think he'll be a real star for New Zealand in the future. Gambhir brings experience of the highest calibre to the side and while India's batsmen aren't always hugely successful in this country he'll be able to pass on invaluable knowledge to the club's promising youngsters, and Essex will hope there's an Indian summer in the making.

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