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Jamie Porter puts England snub on back-burner as more Essex glory beckons

Seamer targets fourth first-class trophy in five seasons in Bob Willis Final at Lord's

Alan Gardner
Alan Gardner
Jamie Porter can consider himself unfortunate to have missed out on England's enlarged squad  •  Getty Images

Jamie Porter can consider himself unfortunate to have missed out on England's enlarged squad  •  Getty Images

At some point over the next few days, Jamie Porter will take the new ball in a five-day match at Lord's. It won't quite be the Test debut that he has spent his career working towards, but it will nevertheless be a memorable way to sign off a season that almost wasn't, as Essex and Somerset contest the first - perhaps only - Bob Willis Trophy final.
"I've been saying, 'lads, we'll be one of only two teams playing a red-ball game at Lord's this year'. That makes it kind of special," Porter says, before adding: "It's a weird one because I haven't really looked at the occasion, I've just been looking at the opposition. Somerset's going to be a tough game and I've just been looking at how am I going to get through their batting line-up and how are we going to win the game."
That pretty much sums up the approach of Essex's senior seamer, a genial destroyer with a Stakhanovite work-rate, who has been "getting through" opposition line-ups with alacrity over the last six seasons. Winning games has been the natural by-product, with Essex looking to secure a fourth first-class trophy in five seasons.
You've probably heard a version of the numbers by now. Since Porter's debut in September 2014, his tally of 341 first-class wickets at 23.63 is second only to Durham's Chris Rushworth in England and Wales. Over the last four years, in Division One of the Championship and this summer's Willis Trophy, that record improves to 202 at 21.38, with only his Essex team-mate, offspinner Simon Harmer, more prolific.
And yet, despite being called up to England's Test squad as recently as the 2018 home series with India, when an expanded training squad was named following the Covid-19 lockdown earlier this year, Porter had seemingly fallen off the selectors' radar.
"It was a bit of a shock. I feel if you were picking a 55-man squad, and with my numbers over the last few years - to not be in there, I was gutted, I was really disappointed," he says. "I had a week when I was pretty down about it all. But it did help motivate me for when we got back - there's only one way I can really answer back and that's by taking wickets. That's what I've done and hopefully I'll keep doing.
"I had a conversation with Ed Smith at the time. It's a tough one, because the obvious answer is you've got to take wickets and bowl well. I probably knew that anyway. Sometimes things just come down to a matter of opinion and you've got to accept that. Unfortunately the decision-makers' opinion is they wanted to give that opportunity to other people. All I can do is bounce back, get better and hopefully keep knocking on the door."
As the six behind-closed-doors Test against West Indies and Pakistan demonstrated, England's seam stocks have rarely been higher - but rather than worry about whether he has slipped behind the likes of Ollie Robinson or Craig Overton, Porter has set himself the highest standard to try and emulate.
"The way I look at it is how can I be better than Jimmy Anderson? Because he's been the best in the world for God knows how long. So if I can look to be better than him… and if I fall short, I still reckon I'll be a half-decent bowler."
Anderson, of course, recently became the first fast bowler to take 600 Test wickets; 103 of them have come at Lord's, though he did not bowl a ball there this summer. Lord's missed out on hosting bio-secure Tests and the five-day domestic final will be the only first-class match held at the ground in 2020, as Essex and Somerset play out a rematch of their Championship decider at Taunton last year.
"I'd definitely say there's a little bit of a rivalry there - a healthy rivalry, we appreciate how good a side they are and we know they're capable of winning titles themselves," Porter says of the opposition. "But we don't want that because we want to be winning the titles. They're always a team we want to beat."
While Somerset's wait for a maiden Championship will go on even if they claim the inaugural Willis Trophy, Essex have established themselves as the format's dominant force. Having been promoted and then relegated three times previously, the club made it a priority to get back into Division One at around the time Porter was breaking into the first team, and have since enjoyed a period of success to rival the Fletcher and Gooch dynasties of the 1980s and '90s.
"We take a lot of pride in our red-ball cricket," Porter says, pointing to Essex's focus on bringing through local talent.
"Every time a young guy has been given an opportunity in the red-ball side they've come in and taken it. Not only shown us what they can do but at the level to compete for trophies. Look at the last game against Middlesex, Aaron Beard bowled that spell second innings and should definitely have had five-for - on another day he'd have had six or seven. That was probably the best spell of seam-bowling I've seen this season.
"Sam Cook at the other end was unbelievable, he could have had four or five. Those are the two least-experienced guys in our bowling attack, and they're the ones in the last innings of a big game putting their hands up and taking the wickets, which is credit to them and credit to the club for bringing through young players who can step up when we need it."
"All the young lads that have had a go have stepped up and done well. Paul Walter's opened the batting and looked brilliant, Feroze Khushi has done brilliantly, Aaron and Sam have done brilliantly. It's great for us that not only have we got into the final but we've got there with academy guys leading the way."
Porter was a beneficiary of that faith himself, quitting his job in recruitment to pursue a county career at the age of 21. Three years later, Essex were county champions for the first time since 1992, with Porter named one of Wisden's Five Cricketers of the Year; last summer, they became the first county to win a Championship and T20 double. If a Test cap remains elusive, success has not.
"If it happens it happens, if not I'm fortunate enough that I'm playing in a very successful side in Essex and I've achieved quite a lot already. If I don't play for England, I still think there's quite a lot to look forward to."

Alan Gardner is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick