Essex v Lancashire - no play due to rain
Essex will not be rushed into appointing a new head coach but the successor to Paul Grayson will be asked to secure promotion to Division One of the Championship - with a largely homegrown squad - while also continuing to mount a challenge for silverware in limited-overs competitions, according to chief executive, Derek Bowden.
Grayson left Essex earlier this month after eight years in charge, seven of which were spent in the Championship's second tier. This season, they lost in the quarter-final stage of both the NatWest T20 Blast and Royal London Cup and failed to mount a promotion challenge - although consecutive wins under interim coach, Chris Silverwood, have lifted them to third in Division Two.
Bowden told ESPNcricinfo on the washed-out first day of Essex's final home fixture of the season against Lancashire that a "number of people" had expressed an interest in the job, which will be formally advertised next week. Essex expect to make an appointment before the end of the year with a view to the new head coach taking charge from January.
While Grayson successfully brought through a number of young players - even if several, the latest being Reece Topley, have chosen to move on - Essex developed a reputation for falling short during his time in charge. Bowden said it was "time for a change" and suggested that a new coach might help the squad to deliver on its potential.
"I think it has been disappointing because we've got a squad that's capable of doing more than it has this year," Bowden said. "We will finish third, I suspect, and having reached two quarter-finals, so it's not a bad season but it would have been good to have progressed through the quarter-finals in either one of the competitions and, for once, to have finished first or second in the division.
"The overall ambition for the club is to get to Division One and stay there. The focus is entirely that, by developing a youth strategy. We have a lot of good young players who come through the system, some stay, some move on - we want to keep them and we know that if we're in Division One we've got a greater likelihood of keeping them.
"We would like the head coach to pick up that plan, to get us from Division Two to Division One and stay there, while at the same time excelling in one or other of the two one-day competitions - probably T20, because that's where the money is. As a Division Two side, and a non-Test ground, the best way to get that is through success in T20.
"I think it's time for some new thoughts and new ideas and getting the real potential from the players we have here, because we have some incredibly talented younger players and some very experienced older players. If we can mould them together into a high-performing team, we'll achieve our objective."
With the promotion of Lancashire, Essex's opponents in the final round of the season, and Surrey, at least seven of the nine Test-match counties will be playing in Division One next year, emphasising the scale of the challenge for those with smaller budgets. The possibility of an eight-ten split between the divisions, in order to reduce the number of games and allow the teams in Division One to still play each other twice, would exacerbate the difficulty.
Discussions about changes to the domestic structure are ongoing but Bowden conceded that a reduction to 14 Championship games a season was "almost inevitable", even though the ECB has deferred any such change until after the 2016 season.
"It is less than ideal, because it is asymmetrical, but it's almost inevitable given the amount if cricket we play here and the weather we have," Bowden said. "It is very crowded at the moment. We have to find a way of playing a bit less cricket. I think if we went from 16 games to 14, personally I could live with that.
"With the schedule as it is, a slight reduction and an asymmetrical split may be pragmatically the way forward. It's not ideal and I can understand members not being happy about it but something has to give somewhere."
Essex have also put on hold plans to build a new pavilion at Chelmsford. The redevelopment of the ground, which began two years ago, has so far seen one block of residential flats constructed on land behind the Graham Gooch Cricket Centre, with two more due for construction. The club hope to finance the pavilion entirely through the sale of flats, rather than via a bank loan, but that will likely delay the project until at least the end of the 2016 season.