If this is to be James Foster's last summer as a professional, Essex's wicketkeeper and former captain will go out on a high note he barely believed possible. Foster, 37, is out of contract at the end of the season and, although he has been offered another year, Essex's unexpected Championship victory could yet prove a fitting finale.
Back in Chelmsford after Essex's celebrations had begun the night before in Birmingham, "Fozzy" was feeling a little fuzzy. He is understood to be weighing up a one-year contract but is already looking ahead to the next stage of his career. This year, he has been involved with coaching Scotland and MCC Young Cricketers, while continuing to combine playing with his role as the cricket professional at Forest School in Walthamstow.
Capped by England at the age of 21, Foster is regarded - along with Chris Read - as one of the finest keepers of his generation. With 800 dismissals in first-class cricket for Essex, he is second only to Brian Taylor in the club's history. Although he began this season out of the side, with Adam Wheater given his chance behind the stumps, Foster fought to win back his place and was part of the XI that sealed the title - an achievement he considered the crowning success of 17 years with Essex.
"Without doubt, coming right at the back end of my career," he said. "Purely from a selfish point of view, I'm absolutely delighted to have won a County Championship. Every year you see these other sides winning and you think, 'Wouldn't it be nice to be in that position' and now we've finally done it."
Foster had experienced promotion three times before with Essex, swiftly followed on each occasion by relegation, and he admitted that he had not been expecting to become a Championship winner at this stage.
"Honestly probably not, getting towards the back end of my career and we've played a lot of Division Two cricket. The handful of times we've been up in Division One we've come straight back down, so I guess you kind of thought maybe it would never happen - but I'm absolutely delighted it has, the way we've performed this season. It probably stemmed from the beginning of last season, winning Division Two but to do this, absolutely thrilled."
Foster is one of four England players in the squad, alongside Alastair Cook, Ravi Bopara and Tom Westley, while others such as Jamie Porter and Dan Lawrence have been tipped for international honours. However, with only Nottinghamshire in 2005 previously having claimed the title the year after being promoted, Foster said Essex's success had taken him by surprise.
"We've always had the talent here, we've had some seriously good players … But doing it this year, it kind of hasn't really sunk in, it'll probably start to when we've actually got the trophy in our hands in a couple of weeks. It's a lot of hard work but the amount of games we've won this year, it's kind of bizarre really. It's a difficult thing to do, winning four-day games, and we've won so many of them.
"We've just rolled with it really, we've gone from game to game, trying to keep our processes, trying to keep it very simple and it's kept working. As a lot of people will understand, you get on that roll, you get that real belief and when you get into tricky moments, you believe you can come out of it."
Foster pointed to Essex's opening fixture, at home to Lancashire, as a key moment in their season. Having conceded a 160-run lead, they were then set 478 to win in four sessions but hung on for a draw six wickets down thanks to Lawrence's unbeaten 141.
"You actually look at our first game of the season, we could have easily lost that. But I think that gave us a lot of belief, it was a phenomenal knock by Daniel Lawrence, 140-odd not out, ultimately I think that was massive for us. Then we had a really good draw at Lord's early in the season, when we were backs against the wall again, then we started to win and we got that momentum going. Boys have performed exceptionally well, not just one or two, everyone's put their hands up."
Having been captain under the previous coach, Paul Grayson, during a run of five seasons in Division Two, Foster had praise for the current combination of Ryan ten Doeschate and Chris Silverwood, who have overseen four-day titles in consecutive years.
"They've been brilliant, they've formed a really good partnership," Foster said. "They work really, really well together. I think they both bring their own style and stamp their own authority on the side, but ultimately they're both very relaxed. Chris believes in fearless cricket - it's a lot easier said than done, to perform. Behind the scenes has been very good but ultimately delivery on the pitch is testament to the players."
If Foster does decide to retire, it will be as one of Essex's most distinguished servants. Bopara, in particular, was pleased that the club's longest-serving player had been rewarded with silverware. "I'm really happy for everybody at this club, especially the older boys, they've been here a long time," he said. "Fozzy, especially, I'm very happy for Foz. We should enjoy this for the next few weeks."