History

A brief history of Essex

Martin Williamson

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Formed 1876
First-class debut 1894
Admitted to Championship1895
County Championship 1979, 1983, 1984, 1986, 1991, 1992, 2002 (Div Two)
Gillette/NatWest/C&G/FP 1985, 1997
Benson & Hedges 1979, 1998
Sunday League/Pro401981, 1984, 1985, 2005, 2006
Twenty20 Best - Semi-finals 2006, 2007

Essex were formed in January 1876 at a meeting in the Shire Hall, Brentwood, although it took almost two decades for the county to attain first-class status (in 1894) and in 1895 they were one of three new admissions to the fledgling Championship.

By 1897 Essex were good enough to finish third - the best of four consecutive top-six finishes - but it was to be another 81 years before their next top-three appearance. They suffered from being close to London, which meant they struggled to attract leading amateurs, and being short on cash, which ruled out the top professionals.

They did have their share of talent. Percy Perrin was regarded as one of the best players of fast bowling in the land, while between the wars Johnny Douglas led the side with distinction and Jack Russell underpinned their batting.

Financial problems dogged the county for the first two thirds of the 20th century. In 1924 they had an emergency appeal which raised £1000 to keep them afloat and they began to play more games away from their Leyton base, leading to the nomadic existence which was to be the case for much of the century. In 1933 Leyton was sold and not until Chelmsford was bought in 1967 did they have anything resembling a home, playing on a variety of club grounds in the county.

Despite this, the 1930s witnessed the emergence of Ken Farnes - one of that rarest breed, an amateur fast bowler - and under Peter Smith the county were in the ascendancy in the three seasons before World War Two.

The war affected Essex badly, not least because Farnes was killed, but their finances benefited from the widespread boom in the game's fortunes in the immediate post-war era. Trevor Bailey emerged as a class allrounder, although the abiding memory of the era came in May 1948 when Australian racked up 721 in a day at Chelmsford.

Although Surrey dominated the 1950s, Essex enjoyed a productive spell and in 1959 they even led the Championship for six weeks under Doug Insole before falling away. In the decade that followed, they never again reached such dizzy heights although membership stayed buoyant as under Brian Taylor they continued to play attacking cricket.

The 1970s saw the county become genuine contenders in both forms of the game and Keith Fletcher, who took over as captain in 1974, gave them a hard edge. Off the field the club was investing in improved facilities, and new players such as Graham Gooch were joined by the likes of Ken McEwan, John Lever and Ray East.

In 1979 after several near misses in the John Player League, Essex won their first titles with a Championship and Benson & Hedges Cup double. In the next seven seasons they added three more Championships and three Sunday league crowns. Gooch succeeded Fletcher in 1986, and again in 1988, adding two more Championships in the early 1990s.

Success continued with victory in several Lord's finals, and Nasser Hussain took over where Gooch, who finally retired in 1997, left off.

Martin Williamson is managing editor of Cricinfo

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Martin Williamson Executive editor Martin Williamson joined the Wisden website in its planning stages in 2001 after failing to make his millions in the internet boom when managing editor of Sportal. Before that he was in charge of Sky Sports Online and helped launch and run Sky News Online. With a preference for all things old (except his wife and children), he has recently confounded colleagues by displaying an uncharacteristic fondness for Twenty20 cricket. His enthusiasm for the game is sadly not matched by his ability, but he remains convinced that he might be a late developer and perseveres in the hope of an England call-up with his middle-order batting and non-spinning offbreaks. He is now managing editor of ESPN EMEA Digital Group as well as his Cricinfo responsibilities.
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