The only way is Essex County set to win title
Innings victory virtually clinches championship Feat hinges on result of Lancashire match today
Lancashire are holding on by their fingertips at Taunton, 45 runs ahead with two wickets left, but it is all pretty theoretical. The moment Lancashire fail to beat Somerset today, Essex will be the 2017 county champions, following their victory here over Warwickshire by an innings and 56 runs.
There were echoes of last season’s climax in that Ryan Sidebottom was batting when the championship was effectively clinched, but it was not Yorkshire’s long-haired left-armer but an Australian of the same name when Essex took the final wicket.
Another difference was that it was not a glorious autumn evening at Lord’s with 10,000 cheering, but a windy afternoon of fitful sunshine in front of a few hundred.
At 3.15pm, Simon Harmer took Warwickshire’s last wicket – a classic form of dismissal for an off-spinner as the tail-ender propped forward and was caught off bat and pad. But then it was a classic formula by Essex all round: bat deep (eight of their players have scored a century), never get beaten so you do not hand points to rivals, and base your club on homegrown talent, topped by shrewd signings from abroad: Harmer from South Africa as off-spinner, and Neil Wagner interchanging with Mohammad Amir as the overseas left-arm pace bowler.
So, Essex, who last lifted the title in 1992, had to wait while Somerset slowly wrestled Lancashire to the floor, but the players were still going to celebrate their eighth victory in 12 matches – unbeaten – and spend the night in Birmingham before travelling home for a knees-up in Chelmsford. They have so much to savour, too, as the only county apart from Nottinghamshire in 2005 to win the Second Division one season and the First the next.
Of all Essex’s homegrown players, the most significant has been Jamie Porter. After three seasons with MCC Young Cricketers and playing for Chingford, he gave up the dream in the winter of 2013-14 and got a job in a recruitment office. Now he is the leading First Division wicket-taker with 64 wickets.
Porter classifies himself as “a nip, not a swing, bowler” but aspires to become like James Anderson by swinging it more. With his speed just pushing above 80mph, Porter nipped out both of Warwickshire’s opening batsmen – inwards to defeat Sam Hain, out to have Dominic Sibley caught behind, and finished with match figures of seven for 99. Porter admits he had raw talent but credits Essex head coach Chris Silverwood with putting it all together. Silverwood’s stock keeps rising, as a bowling as well as head coach, and he will be with England before the third one-day international against West Indies in Bristol.
Head coaches often go for the short-term fix of signing players from overseas, preferably Kolpaks. Silverwood, coming from a homegrown county – and he won the championship as a pace bowler with Yorkshire in 2001 – realised that a hardcore of local lads comes first, creating a culture specific to the county and one which lasts.
“The one thing we are passionate about is that the local lads come through,” Silverwood said. And it would be hard to say that any other county maximises the resources of its population better. “As a group of lads we are very tight-knit,” Porter testified. “When guys have a bad day, we are all right behind them and we all get along off the pitch.”
Silverwood identified their opening game against Lancashire as one turning point: a defiant century by Dan Lawrence salvaged a draw and gave Essex the belief they could survive in the division. Lawrence, 20, has the bearing of an England player in the making. Whereas Tom Westley dropped a straightforward catch at third slip offered by Matt Lamb, Lawrence took an outstanding one – diving to hold a skyer.
Another local seamer, Sam Cook, 20, nipped out Jonathan Trott, dragging on, and Ian Bell, insideedging. Showers held up play before and after lunch while Warwickshire batted like one. No wonder they have been demoted: it was their fifth defeat by an innings.
Glory time: Simon Harmer celebrates taking the final Warwickshire wicket