The only way is Essex County set to win ti­tle

In­nings vic­tory vir­tu­ally clinches cham­pi­onship Feat hinges on re­sult of Lan­cashire match to­day

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Front Page - By Scyld Berry CRICKET COR­RE­SPON­DENT at Edg­bas­ton

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

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