Don Topley: Battle-hardened Essex are a force to be reckoned with

Essex's Simon Harmer has been impressing Don Topley. Picture: PA SPORT

Essex's Simon Harmer has been impressing Don Topley. Picture: PA SPORT - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

In his latest cricket column, Don Topley sings the praises of defending County Champions Essex after a gruelling week.

It has been a really demanding week for the club, not only qualifying for the eliminator stages of the Royal London (RL) One Day Cup but also moving up to second place in the County Championship after beating a strong Lancashire side.

The all important quarter-final RL 50 Over match v Yorkshire takes place on Thursday at Chelmsford and Essex will be firm favourites following their thrashing of dangerous Kent last week.

After an initially inconsistent RL campaign, Essex found themselves needing three successive victories in order to qualify. They then played some wonderful 50 over cricket to qualify, beating Glamorgan, Sussex and Kent.

Last year, Essex reached the semi-finals and – in my opinion, were the very best 50-over side throughout – topping their group. However, Nottinghamshire broke Essex hearts in last year’s famous semi-final in a memorable match.

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This time, Essex are now playing with their ‘A’ game. I really feel they will defeat Yorkshire; Yorkshire will be without their England white ball players Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow, Liam Plunkett Adil Rashid and David Willey, all of whom will all be at the Oval today for the start of the one day series with Australia.

It is conceivable that any Yorkshire player left out by England could make a dash from Central London to Chelmsford before England move down to Cardiff for the 2nd ODI.

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The only worry I have for Essex is they may be seriously jaded. Last weekend’s Championship game at Old Trafford was brilliant, of high class, but hugely tiring, especially for the match-winning Essex bowlers.

Whilst everyone has been fielding for just 50 overs in the past month, this Lancashire championship fixture required Essex to field for nearly 100 overs and then bowl again the very next day – 50 over cricket doesn’t prepare you for that.

People often forget that when you are good in Championship cricket, you bowl so much more to capture the opposition’s 20 wickets and maybe, bat less. However, if you are a poor team, you bat twice or not as long, and spend less time in the field.

The result is the bowlers get tired and when they are tired you get injuries. Sam Cook, who has been outstanding this season now has a shin-soreness injury – irritating and painful – and man of the moment, Jamie Porter, was totally exhausted after his endeavours at Old Trafford.

Essex showed immense character up North and this Lancashire win signals Essex aren’t going to easily relinquish their County Championship crown.

Neil Wagner, Porter, Sam Cook and Simon Harmer were terrific for their captain, Ryan Ten Doeschate. Harmer, once again, enjoyed bowling successfully into left-armer, Wagner’s foot holes.

We didn’t see the personable and charismatic captain smile much last weekend as he looked somewhat grumpy and tired.

Allegedly, the umpires called him in and had a word with him after his bitter disappointment and bat throwing escapade following his incredible dismissal in that tight and incredibly hard fought match.

I expect Ryan – usually an ebullient, delightful and passionate man - to be smiling after tomorrow’s quarter-final clash.

I will be surprised if Alastair Cook is to be included tomorrow as I don’t believe he is needed. Varun Chopra and Adam Wheater have opened the batting recently and laid excellent foundations in those last three RL wins.

Wheater has kept wicket with Essex finding a great formula, so James Foster misses out. They will surely keep the same side that has got them to this massive quarter-final clash.

The Royal London One Day Cup has its final at Lords at the end of the month and there is speculation that this will be the very last Lord’s Final.

Essex coach, Anthony McGrath, said: “a Lord’s Cup Final is the dream of every county player” and, like me, firmly believes his team could do something special. Hampshire await the winners in the semi-final, to be held at Southampton on Monday.

In total contrast, I was totally embarrassed by Scotland’s defeat of England on Sunday. England almost chased down a huge total on a flat wicket with small boundaries but allowing Scotland to post 371/5 was simply not good enough.

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