Don Topley: Evaluating Essex County Cricket Club players as the season starts
In his latest column, Don Topley evaluates the Essex County Cricket Club players as they begin their return to the top flight today against Lancashire.
There will be huge excitement at Essex CCC today as they begin their long-awaited Division One return to the County Championship with a home fixture against Lancashire, at the Cloud FM, County Ground, Chelmsford.
The club has high hopes of doing significantly better than their last two Division One campaigns – relegated twice, each time after a solitary season in the top flight, most recently in 2010.
Here’s my Essex 2017 players’ profiles:
Alastair Cook – Alastair could be available for 9 of the 14 four-day fixtures, subject to England not resting him. When Alastair scores big runs Essex naturally dominate games. Sad that he will miss today with a hip injury.
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Nick Browne – Like Cook, when Nick gets runs they are usually ‘daddy’ hundreds. Nick also admitted he perhaps underachieved at times in 2016. He is hugely excited by his first taste of Division One cricket.
Varun Chopra – The former Warwickshire man has returned home. Has loads of Division One valuable experience and will be an important player, probably at No3, until Cook joins England.
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Tom Westley – I feel Tom is now behind James Vince, Keaton Jennings, Haseeb Hameed, Ben Duckett and perhaps Dawid Malan with England. I rate Tom highly but he will need volume of runs in Division One just to be noticed.
Ravi Bopara – Despite a satisfactory average in 2016, has not achieved a Championship century since 2014. Expecting him to return to his best as Division Two bowlers bowl wider lines to bore the batsman into submission. Better Division One bowlers will target his stumps more, which Ravi, in my opinion, will enjoy more.
Dan Lawrence – Excellent young batting prospect who may take time to acclimatise to the better bowlers and the intensity of Division One bowling units.
Ryan Ten Doeschate – Much respected and most unselfish captain. Could bat higher, could bowl more but puts everyone in his team first. At 36 remains Essex’s most athletic and competent fielder.
Adam Wheater – Departed Hampshire mid-season 2016 after averaging a creditable 47 in Division One. Desperate to take the gloves as the reason for leaving. Will compete with veteran, James Foster but could play solely as a batsman.
James Foster – 2016 saw him return to his best with the gloves and make notable contributions with the bat. Wonderful servant but Essex may split the demanding roles of keeper.
Simon Harmer – New Kolpak signing. Former South African Test off-spinner will surprise many with his late order batting but primarily will be Essex’s official spinner and assist the seamers offering a deserved rest.
Neil Wagner – Passionate New Zealand left arm pace bowler who is a superb signing. Has much experience of Division One cricket and will lead the attack until Amir’s possible arrival in July.
Mohammed Amir – Wonderful and sought after left arm commodity. Probably the World’s most exciting young bowler/cricketer. Word of caution: Mickey Arthur, Pakistan’s head coach, is concerned to see his hottest property over here for the second half of our demanding season. May have an agreement for Amir to bowl with the new ball and at the tail but leave the bulk of the middle overs to Essex’s local bowlers.
Jamie Porter – Has an excellent attitude and has been looked after by Essex by mainly playing the longer format of the game. Enough pace and swings it importantly. With no Masters and Napier will have added responsibility - still young, not yet 24.
Matt Quinn – This previously unknown Kiwi has been an excellent addition and performed well in his debut season. Endured a stress fracture late last summer but hopes to play a full part, once he has gained overs under his belt following his long lay-off. Good skills.
Matt Dixon – Slowly gaining confidence since arriving in 2016 from Australia. Still learning about bowling regularly in the UK but expect his reputation to grow over the season.
Aaron Beard – This talented U19 international has tremendous potential, but remember his tender age. Will contribute at times but Essex must look after him.