Don Topley: Despite crushing opening defeat, Essex are far too good to go down

Sir Alastair Cook will be a key figure for Essex this season. Picture: PA SPORT

Sir Alastair Cook will be a key figure for Essex this season. Picture: PA SPORT - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

Today is day one of the second round of the County Championship matches with Essex playing county champions, Surrey, at The Kia Oval – the cricket season is now very much up and running.

Essex skipper Ryan ten Doeschate may be fighting Father Time, but he's still an important part of th

Essex skipper Ryan ten Doeschate may be fighting Father Time, but he's still an important part of the squad - Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

Essex returned home earlier in the week with their tails firmly between their legs as their opening fixture was a disaster down at the Ageas Bowl.

Hampshire defeated them emphatically by an innings and 87 runs. This was a complete surprise as Hampshire, (under the new and impressive coach, Adrian Birrell) were terrific with Sam Northeast making 169 in the home team’s 525-8 declared - Northeast does enjoy batting against Essex!

Some fervent supporters on social media are worried and are pre-empting that there could be a battle for relegation.

Essex are far too good, especially in their batting, to face a battle for survival. I expect Essex to be one of three teams fighting to win the Championship, with Surrey and Nottinghamshire.

Alastair Cook has already shown his 2019 passion and determination by making a five hour 150 against the students of Cambridge University in his first innings of the new season.

Cook has recently reaffirmed his decision to end his international career, even if England come begging – a decision which will be an advantage to his beloved Essex. He will score many ‘Daddy’ hundreds in numerous Essex totals, hopefully starting in London!

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There is much competition for batting spots, with Nick Browne and Tom Westley both enjoying batting with the legend, Cook. Varun Chopra may not be in the starting XI.

Dan Lawrence has been working hard at his technique after an underwhelming 2018 Championship, averaging just 23. Meanwhile, Ravi Bopara, fresh from a fabulous century at Hampshire, will be again spurned on by a super 2018 season – he really is the heartbeat of the team and will be missed in this game.

Another significant chap is the captain and talisman, Ryan Ten Doeschate. A selfless cricketer and invaluable to his team. May not bowl as much at the age of 39 - it may hurt!

With James Foster retiring and moving beyond the boundary to the Worcestershire coaching staff, the wicketkeeper’s spot was confirmed for Adam Wheater, with a back-up from young Michael Pepper.

Uniquely in the same match, both Essex and Hampshire’s keepers suffered awful hand injuries and are both out for a while. Even Essex’s reserve, Pepper, is recovering from appendicitis.

So, after just one fixture, Essex have loaned Middlesex’s No2 Keeper, Robbie White for two months.

Once Wheater fractured his thumb, Essex walked across to the other side of the Ageas Bowl pavilion to enquire about Hampshire’s experienced No2 gloveman, Lewis McManus. Sadly, McManus was called upon the next day as substitute Hampshire keeper – best laid plans eh!

Batsmen set up championship games but it’s the bowlers who really win them. Peter Siddle is now in the country and available this game to bolster the Essex attack.

Jamie Porter and Sam Cook will need looking after as the season is brutal, but the good news is Kiwi, Matt Quinn is fit to fire after just three four day matches last season: Quinn underwent a serious back operation over 18 months ago, which required further surgery. Everyone will be pleased to see him back and bowling.

With the lion-hearted allrounder, Matt Coles, fighting hard to get into the side, Aaron Beard (who now needs to push on), Paul Walter (needs to gain Essex’s confidence with the ball) and England U19 talent Jack Plom are the back-up seamers.

Talented South African Simon Harmer grows with responsibility and is the very best finger spinner in the country. I was so pleased for Harmer making his first Essex century against Surrey in the final game of last season where Essex turned over the 2018 Champions.

It was a wonderful game of County Championship Cricket and Surrey’s only defeat. Harmer will be missing an Essex left armer’s foot-holes/rough which was the most significant tactic to Essex’s Championship winning season in 2017 – the oldest tactic in cricket: remember Lever & Acfield, Ilott & Such and even Sidebottom & Swann.

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