Wily Ten Doeschate paves way for march of the Es­sex boys

Will Macpher­son

The Guardian - Sport - - Cricket -

By fin­ish­ing War­wick­shire off quite so promptly, Es­sex were left with a few ag­o­nis­ing hours to kill be­fore their first Cham­pi­onship ti­tle in a quar­ter of cen­tury is ex­pected to be con­firmed. “I want to go home and chill out,” Ryan ten Doeschate, the cap­tain, said. “But some of the young­sters are eye­ing two days in Birm­ing­ham.” The cheer­ing from the Edg­bas­ton dress­ing room, row­dier with ev­ery wicket for Som­er­set’s spin­ners, hinted that the young­sters had won. They were all Ci­der­men for the day, in more ways than one.

Es­sex have dom­i­nated Divi­sion One on their first sea­son back af­ter six sum­mers away, and their sev­enth ti­tle ever (and first with­out Gra­ham Gooch) should be con­firmed in Taun­ton to­day. The County Cham­pi­onship may never see a cli­max as ex­cit­ing as 2016’s but thanks to Es­sex’s ex­cel­lence, there has barely even been a con­test, and it should be done with eight of 56 days to spare. Their win at Edg­bas­ton was their eighth in 12 games (Mid­dle­sex won with six in 16 last year), and they are the only un­beaten side in the land.

“Name me a game, I can tell you two play­ers who have won it. Name a player and I’ll give you two games they have won for us,” Ten Doeschate said. It has, as he says, been a tri­umph of the col­lec­tive. Jamie Porter and Si­mon Harmer have bossed the bowl­ing, with more than 60 wick­ets each, but Es­sex have eight dif­fer­ent cen­tu­ri­ons. Neil Wag­ner and Mo­ham­mad Amir have shared 38 wick­ets as over­seas pro, while the third seamer’s spot has been a re­volv­ing door of young seam­ers from the lo­cal leagues and in the last cou­ple of weeks, Sam has shown that two is not too many Cooks. Speak­ing of which, they have had the bat­ting depth to cover for the ab­sence of Alas­tair Cook and Tom West­ley.

Ten Doeschate is a man who be­lieves “peo­ple make too much of a big deal out of cricket cap­taincy”. But he is the most re­source­ful and dy­namic skip­per on the cir­cuit. In sign­ing Harmer, Es­sex have the best spin­ner, too. Af­ter win­ning Divi­sion Two barely us­ing spin, this was the most press­ing tar­get for Ten Doeschate and the head coach, Chris Sil­ver­wood. Pro­vid­ing him with the foot­marks carved out by the left-arm seam bowl­ing over­seas bowlers has been a mas­ter­stroke.

Be­sides Harmer, the best of the Kol­pak sign­ings, Ten Doeschate (the South African Dutch in­ter­na­tional who has been with the club more than a decade and de­scribes him­self as “Es­sex through and through”), and those over­seas bowlers, ev­ery­one else is lo­cal. It is a side forged in the Es­sex leagues, but re­fined else­where.

“That is very de­lib­er­ate,” says Sil­ver­wood who, with his as­sis­tant An­thony McGrath, won the ti­tle as a player with York­shire in 2001. “We are pas­sion­ate about home­grown play­ers com­ing through. They’re all Es­sex boys. If you get that, you get longevity, rather than a short-term thing.”

Cricket

Es­sex

War­wick­shire SR Hain DP Si­b­ley *IJL Trott IR Bell

M Lamb CR Woakes †AJ Mel­lor KHD Barker JS Pa­tel HJH Brookes RN Side­bot­tom Ex­tras (b1, lb3)

Ten Doeschate is coy about the club’s am­bi­tions at the start of the sea­son, but says he was des­per­ate to dis­pel among his squad the “myth” of the gap be­tween the di­vi­sions, and to land a punch for the smaller coun­ties. By the sixth or sev­enth game, they be­lieved they could win and started to plan ex­actly how to do so. “I hope we’ve shown that teams com­ing up don’t have to go down. An­other thing that’s big for me is that young play­ers don’t have to move to Test grounds,” he says.

Those early games were an ed­u­ca­tion. Dan Lawrence, who had six Cham­pi­onship tons be­fore 20, had to save an open­ing draw against Lan­cashire, then Cook’s ex­cel­lence saw them chase 255 – the day af­ter 18 wick­ets fell – at Taun­ton. They es­caped with a draw against Mid­dle­sex at Lord’s but, hav­ing rid­den those early chal­lenges, got on a run of five straight mid­sum­mer wins, spear­headed by Harmer, who took 14 wick­ets in suc­ces­sive matches against War­wick­shire and Mid­dle­sex.

Es­sex were pro­moted in 2016, the tough­est sea­son, be­cause just one side came up. But they be­lieve that helped, be­cause by be­ing forced to win the divi­sion, they had to learn how to win matches.

The story of 24-year-old Porter – who has stepped into the hag­gard old bowl­ing boots va­cated by Gra­ham Napier and Dave Masters, who re­tired last year and de­serve at least an as­sist for this tri­umph – per­haps il­lus­trates this best. Af­ter fail­ing to make the grade at Es­sex or Mid­dle­sex, as well as three years as an MCC Young Crick­eter, he was work­ing in re­cruit­ment in Lon­don as Eng­land lost the 2013-14 Ashes 5-0; this time, he is in con­tention to tour.

He had just about given up on a ca­reer in the game but af­ter a fine start to the 2014 sea­son for Ching­ford he got a trial with Es­sex sec­onds. “I quit my job af­ter one sec­ond-team game which was a bit rogue,” he says with the grin of a man who knows he will never have to go back. “One of the old sales bosses told me there’s al­ways a job there if I need it – I re­mem­ber think­ing I’d look like a right mup­pet if I asked for my job back by the end of the week! I had enough sav­ings to get me through the sum­mer so I gave it one last go and here we are.”

Talk to any of the movers and shak­ers, and the sub­ject shifts to legacy, of an era of Porter, Lawrence and West­ley. Club le­gends Brian “Tonker” Tay­lor and Doug In­sole have died dur­ing the course of this cam­paign, while Keith Fletcher and Gooch were vi­tal in the de­vel­op­ment of many of th­ese play­ers, and re­main close to the team. In­deed, a for­mer player is never far away at Chelms­ford, a ram­shackle ground where Es­sex are sup­ported loudly and proudly, al­ways with half an eye on his­tory.

“Ev­ery­one talks about the Fletcher era, and Gooch,” says Sil­ver­wood. “Well, what I’m say­ing to th­ese guys is I’d love them to be talk­ing about this era in 20 years time.”

To­tal (46 overs) ................................................ 112

Fall 9, 14, 20, 25, 47, 55, 64, 82, 105. Bowl­ing Porter 14-5-37-3; Harmer 16-6-25-4; Cook 12-3-42-3; Wag­ner 4-1-4-0. Uxbridge

Mid­dle­sex First in­nings (overnight 76-3)

AC Vo­ges c Adams b Ed­wards .............................. 27 MDE Holden c Adams b Hol­land ........................... 35 †JA Simp­son not out .......................................... 15 *JEC Franklin b Ab­bott ......................................... 0 JAR Har­ris lbw b Ab­bott ........................................ 0 OP Rayner not out ............................................... 4

Cap­tain has mined the lo­cal leagues to forge a win­ning team, writes

Name me a player and I’ll give you two games they have won for us

Sur­rey

Mid­dle­sex v Hamp­shire

David Rogers/ Getty Images

Es­sex whirl War­wick­shire’s Alex Mel­lor is caught at slip by Varun Cho­pra off the bowl­ing of Si­mon Harmer, whose off breaks have brought him 63 wick­ets this sea­son

Jamie Porter’s me­te­oric rise from re­cruit­ment con­sul­tant to lead­ing wicket-taker in the County Cham­pi­onship ex­em­pli­fies Es­sex’s clever har­ness­ing of lo­cal tal­ent

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