County kings Essex celebrate first Championship triumph since 1992
Lancashire defeat sparks Chelmsford celebration Irani salutes Silverwood and says more is to come
Some titles are achieved with suitable panache, like a winning forehand or last-minute goal. In the traditions of the dear old County Championship, Essex won the title when Somerset captain Tom Abell slog-swept a Lancashire spinner for four runs, ending Lancashire’s last theoretical chance of catching the runaway leaders.
The championship was formally decided here at noon exactly, but the bells of St James’s church did not peel in praise of Essex winning their first championship since 1992. Somerset were too concerned with their own fate: they took Lancashire’s two overnight wickets, then knocked off the 68 runs they wanted to help stay in the first division. Essex’s players, meanwhile, were on the bus back to Chelmsford after their night out in Birmingham to celebrate the previous day’s defeat of Warwickshire.
It was here in April that Essex won their first match of the season and, according to their head coach Chris Silverwood, gave themselves the belief that they could win the title straight after being promoted; and their victory was down to Alastair Cook who, instead of smarting after his resignation from the England captaincy, scored the match-winning century.
“He [Cook] made it seem easy out there and the rest of the lads bought into that,” Silverwood said. “When he comes back to us [from England duty], he talks about his passion for Essex and he gives so much to the team – what better role model?”
And, in the course of this season, seven other Essex batsmen followed Cook’s example in making championship hundreds.
One person who can closely compare the Essex sides of 1992, captained by Graham Gooch, and 2017, captained by Ryan ten Doeschate, is the chairman of their cricket committee, Ronnie Irani. In 1992, Irani was starting his career with Lancashire as a hustling and bustling all-rounder before switching to Essex, where he played under Gooch’s captaincy and represented England in three Tests.
“We’ve had two reigns before at Essex – the Keith Fletcher reign, which was fundamental to where Essex are today, then Graham Gooch taking over and leading from the front,” Irani said. “They were both vocal – absolutely vocal, but they just had to look at you and you knew what you had to do.
“Silvers [Chris Silverwood] has got that knack. He looks at you and you know what’s required. Since we brought him into the job two years ago, he’s ticked every box, he’s honest, he’s hard-working, he’s a good man-manager and he knows how to achieve success.”
Irani says Silverwood has not applied for the vacant post of England bowling coach after the departure of Ottis Gibson but adds: “I think the ECB have approached to speak to him, and they must speak to him.
I actually believe, the bowling job, that’s the easy one for Chris Silverwood – what the ECB need to look at is when Trevor Bayliss decides to finish [as head coach], that’s the time for a role for Chris. He’s more than just a bowling coach.
“Me and Chris identified we needed a top-class spinner. We couldn’t find one when we were in the second division but we heard about Simon Harmer and heard he was a fabulous guy. He’s come over to England [as a Kolpak] and carved out a life for himself, and he’s also doing a law degree.”
In 1992, Essex had two main spinners in John Childs and Peter Such; this season Harmer has done the work of two by taking 63 wickets at only 20 runs each.
Ten Doeschate is also praised by his cricket chairman. “If you’re a good man, like he is, you’ll have good followers. There’s no better man to walk out to bat with,” Irani said. Or perhaps the best measure of what a team man their captain is that Harmer’s short-leg fielder is not the most junior batsman but Ten Doeschate himself.
Although Silverwood played mainly for Yorkshire, he is well aware of the two previous reigns. “Everyone talks about the Fletcher era. What I would love people to be doing in 20 years is talking about this era – your Jamie Porters, Dan Lawrences, Tom Westleys. If they do that it means we’ve left a legacy and what more could you ask for?”
Many cricket followers will regret the new arrangement whereby the first division has been reduced to 14 games crammed into each end of the season, in April and the first half of May then September, so the competition does not provide such a wide range of conditions as in 1992, when Essex played 22 matches and also used the outgrounds of Colchester, Ilford and Southend.
But while Essex have raced to the title with two games to play, and twice as many wins as Lancashire, at the other end there is a battle royal to come in the next fortnight because one point separates Yorkshire, Somerset and Middlesex. The county that comes last of these three will be demoted along with Warwickshire.
As Yorkshire next week have a home match against Warwickshire, the county of the bear and a rather ragged staff in transition, it is likely to boil down to the last game at Taunton between Somerset and Middlesex. Middlesex pipped Somerset to the title last season. It would be some irony if Somerset this time sent Middlesex down.
Winning feeling: Essex celebrate lifting the County Championship title