Tuesday 8 April 2008 

Essex Launch 2008 Season With High Hopes

Essex will be hoping that their forthcoming county season follows the path of their open day. The Ford County Ground at Chelmsford was bathed in sunshine as Essex officially launched their 2008 campaign. Cricket World sent Aaron Kumar along to sample the atmosphere and interview some of the county's major players.

Last season was fairly disappointing for Essex as they finished third in the second division in both the four day LV County Championship and the NatWest Pro 40.

During the day I spoke to former England captain Graham Gooch. Gooch was the head coach at Essex between 2001 and 2005 but now works for the County as a specialist batting coach, Gooch said that he is optimistic about Essex's chances this season:

“It is going to be an interesting season for us, we have got a lot of new players coming through; we have a lot of talent in terms of young exciting players, new players from other counties, David Masters from Leicestershire, Jason Gallion from Notts and Chris Wright from Middlesex who is a young bowler.

“It is going to be an interesting season because we haven’t got a massive amount of experience, but we have got a lot of talent so we are looking for our players like our captain Mark Petini, Ravi Bopara and James Foster to really come through this year and do the job that the experienced players have done in the past."

Indian Virender Sehwag hit a Test triple century last week against South Africa and Gooch, the last Englishman to hit a Test triple century (333 against India at Lord's in 1990), gave an insight into the thought process and skills required to achieve such a remarkable feat.

“I think once you get to a hundred you are thinking to yourself, ‘go on and on’ because you never know if that good ball is around the corner you might get a slightly dodgy decision, so make it count in good form and while you are playing well- don’t wait till the next innings.

"Certainly Sehwag likes batting for long periods of time, he has two treble hundreds now, it’s also a test of skill, a test of stamina, a test of concentration over a long period of time because it’s easy to get to 150 and then lose concentration.

“I congratulate him, not only has he got two treble hundreds but he is the type of player that people will pay money to watch. He is an exciting player and everyone wants to be entertained.”

Gooch also helps to fund the Academy at Essex, and one of the players who came through that system was England opener Alastair Cook. Cook, who recently played in England's successful Test series win over New Zealand, is now looking forward to the summer ahead and playing some games for Essex, but he concedes that it is difficult for any regular member of the England team to play a great deal of county cricket given the busy nature of the International cricket calendar.

“We are all available for the start of the county season minus one or two games, [England coach Peter] Moores is picking people who do well in county cricket, so that’s a great incentive for any county player.

“The amount of cricket England play, it’s very hard to play every game for Essex or for your county if you are playing every game for England."

With the New Zealand tour of England getting underway next month so soon after the two sides met in New Zealand, who does the left-hander see as a big threat to England after the recent series?

"Dan Vettori and Brendon McCullum pose a big threat, especially seeing as they bat at seven and eight, because they could bat a lot higher than that and I was very impressed with Chris Martin and Kyle Mills with the new ball. We will be hoping that we can do the double over them and there is no reason why we can’t. But it was very competitive over there and no doubt we will have to be on the top of our game to win this series coming up."

Much has been made about the ECB’s stance on the IPL, just yesterday Giles Clarke, the chairman of the ECB, said that no England centrally contracted player will be permitted to take part in the event for the next two years, at least. Cook believes that the concept of the IPL can only be good for the game and that in time, more players will join. However, at the moment he insists that it is not something that fits in with England’s plans given their packed schedule.

“It’s obviously been discussed, I think that it is excellent for cricket that there is such huge interest and if it goes well it can only benefit cricket. Obviously issues will be sorted out as to when England players can play in it. If the opportunity arrives to play in it then I am sure people will play, but I know that every member of that squad to play New Zealand is fully committed to playing for England and I don’t think would jeopardise their chances of playing."

Cook’s Essex and England team-mate Ravi Bopara, has had mixed fortunes in the last 12 months. After having a wonderful World Cup in which he was Man of the Match against Sri Lanka, and then playing a huge part in the successful ODI series for England against India last summer, he has since struggled with injuries and poor form. As a result he was dropped from the Test squad after just three Tests in Sri Lanka.

Bopara, however, remains confident in his own game and aims to get back into contention for an England place.

“This winter, wasn’t a great winter for me personally but only last summer I was at Old Trafford with Broady and we won that game, and personally I did well in the World Cup, just brings back great memories," he said. "But I am always confident in my game any way. Everyone goes through a rough patch, but it is about coming out of that even better and even stronger."

Bopara said his main aim this season is to be the leading run scorer for Essex, but said that that goal could change if he gets picked for England this summer.

“One of my goals is to be the leading run scorer for Essex, but if I get called away on England duty then that will obviously change, but my aim is to be the heaviest scorer for Essex.”

There really is a sense of belief and confidence in Essex about their chances in the 2008 season. However, next week the laughing and joking will end and the serious business of trying to get promoted to Division One of the County Championship begins as Essex take on Northamptonshire on April 16th.

Aaron Kumar
© Cricket World 2008