Crunch time for Essex hopes

ESSEX start their final match of the season at Grace Road this morning knowing that 19 points against Leicestershire would guarantee promotion to the First Division of the County Championship along with champions Surrey.

ESSEX start their final match of the season at Grace Road this morning knowing that 19 points against Leicestershire would guarantee promotion to the First Division of the County Championship along with champions Surrey.

Worcestershire are the only other team that could claim second spot, as they currently trail Essex by four points. They play at Wantage Road against a rejuvenated Northamptonshire side.

Depending on Worcestershire's result, a draw may be enough for Essex, enabling Ronnie Irani and his players to celebrate once more after their Twenty20 Floodlight Cup and the Pro 40 League double at the weekend.

Whatever happens at Grace Road, it will still have been a very successful season for the county, and one they would have settled for at the start of the campaign.


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“It would have been nice to have clinched the Pro40 title in style by beating Durham but we have still had a marvellous season and shown we are a match for anyone,” was the verdict of skipper Irani.

“It's been a great team effort all summer with everyone playing a vital part at one time or another. It's that team ethic that has laid the foundation for success and made us into such a formidable outfit.

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“And when you reflect on the number of youngsters in the side - lads who can only get better - then I remain convinced that more good times are ahead of us.

“Obviously to clinch promotion would make it a season to remember and we'll be playing attacking and positively in a bid to ensure that we are back in the top-flight in 2007.”

Those prospects were boosted by the news that Andy Bichel had been allowed by Queensland to remain with the county for their vital game.

The Australian fast bowler was originally due to return to the state side on September 14, and Essex chief executive David East was quick to acknowledge their assistance.

“We are extremely grateful to Queensland Cricket for their co-operation in this matter,” he said. “Andy has played a major role in our success this year since arriving in June and we hope he can continue that form through to the end of the season.”

The player also expressed his delight at being allowed to stay on.

“Queensland are having a training camp ahead of their own domestic season and I'm one of their senior players but they've been very understanding in allowing me to stay in England for a few more days,” he stated. “I'm delighted to be able to play in this crucial game for Essex, they are a great bunch of guys and I want to help them realise their ambitions of First Division cricket for next year.”

Essex will also be able to call on the services of opening bat Alastair Cook, who has been allowed by the England selectors to play in the match and is likely to open the innings in what will be only his third championship match of the season.

Leicestershire will be missing their leading batsman HD Ackerman, who has returned home to South Africa. He is the only batsman to have reached 1,000 championship runs for the Midlanders this summer although John Maunders requires just another 93 to join him.

Young fast bowler Stuart Broad is rested ahead of England' winter tours.

Essex will select from a squad of 15 players with Andre Adams due to have a late fitness test on an ankle injury picked up against Durham.

The hosts will be captained by Darren Robinson who left Essex at the end of the 2003 campaign, and the 33-year-old will be looking to add to his impressive run of form against his former employers.

The teams

Leicestershire (from): D Robinson (capt), J Sadler, J Maunders, T New, D Maddy, P Nixon, C Henderson, A Griffith, D Masters, J Allenby, R Cummins, N Walker, C Liddle and H Girney.

Essex (from): R Irani (capt), A Cook, M Pettini, R Bopara, A Flower, J Foster, J Middlebrook, T Phillips, A Bichel, A Tudor, A Adams, G Napier, M Westfield, V Chopra and R ten Doeschate.

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