Essex are getting the luck you need to have a very successful season

Graham Napier, David Masters and Jamie Porter cut meat at a Lebanese street food stall at the Essex

Graham Napier, David Masters and Jamie Porter cut meat at a Lebanese street food stall at the Essex County Cricket Club's media day. - Credit: Su Anderson

Essex secured their second win and extended their lead at the top of Division Two of the ‘Specsavers’ County Championship this week.

Northamptonshire – now without David Willey and five other first team regulars who are injured – put out a poor side at Chelmsford but Essex still had to beat them, despite losing so much time to the weather.

The Northants bowling was underwhelming on the first day and when the sun came out the home batsmen filled their boots with the top five all making half centuries. Chris Silverwood hoped his side would only bat once and with the effective James Foster and Ryan Ten Doeschate accelerating, Essex could declare on 441 for 8, 30 minutes before lunch on day three.

30 minutes later on that third day, Northants were reeling at an incredible 6 for 4 and at lunch were still 326 runs away from saving the follow on. Jamie Porter and David Masters (in his first outing of the summer) were tight and impressive, bowling four consecutive maidens. Northants batsmen must have had indigestion even before accepting their lunch time meals!

It must be confirmed that Essex enjoyed a bit of luck too with last week’s double centurion, Ben Duckett , out third ball for nothing: he clipped a simple Masters loosening ‘long-hop’ to pin-point the one lonely fielder in the deep.

It wasn’t a wicket-taking ball but how often does Masters beat the bat without reward?

Ten Doeschate also took an impressive catch at leg-slip and Westley and Cook shared a catch which might have easily been spilled.

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These bits of luck are massive and contribute just like a winning habit. Essex, right now, are enjoying some great and instinctive catching and that ‘bit of luck’ too where full tosses are going to hand and poor balls get wickets. Long may that continue!

Eventually bowled out for an underwhelming 119, Ten Doeschate politely asked Northants to bat again and rightly so. It was the best chance of winning with the time remaining.

The bowling hero over the four days was again Porter, who claimed his second five wicket haul (5/46) in successive matches.

The 22-year-old blonde swing bowler was smiling like a Cheshire cat, who had got the cream too!

Applauded off the pitch by his team mates for the second week, he confided to me, that he will be so proud to see his name on the ‘bowling honours board’ at the County Ground in Chelmsford. Masters and Napier undoubtedly did their bit too but they have been there and seen it all before.

Surely Northants would bat better the second time and they did. But the manner of Essex’s win by an innings and 92 runs was impressive and clinical. Whilst Porter was the more potent bowler, it was the surprise bowling of captain Ten Doeschate, who claimed four wickets in the second innings and in the absence of Ravi Bopara’s bowling who has some knee issues. Essex remain top and extremely impressive.

The away drawn match at Sussex the week before was one of the finest four-day County Championship matches head coach, Chris Silverwood, has witnessed.

He was proud of his side’s perpetual fight as Sussex are one of the more fancied and competitive sides in Division Two – Sussex were relegated last summer and are much stronger than both Gloucestershire and Northants who Essex have beaten so far this month.

Whilst Silverwood has congratulated his team on their impressive fight, he was also honest with his bowlers’ assessment in that first session on day one at Hove.

Silverwood said: “Those steep slopes at the Hove Ground made our bowlers struggle: we lacked rhythm and offered too many easy scoring balls. We just had to drag it back after an average start.”

He added, “Porter and Napier were simply excellent. Then there was Westley’s fine knock in the first innings and Cook’s ton in the second.

“Maybe if we had just bowled better on that first day, we could have won that championship game too.”

Clearly, Silverwood feels his side are learning along what will be a long and tiring championship road where Essex won’t have it all their own way against the division’s better counties.

One of the best players to never play for England, Napier is coming to Suffolk

One of Essex cricket’s all-time entertainers, Graham Napier, is in his last professional cricket season and despite his 36 years is currently second leading wicket-taker in the country with 19 championship wickets in three matches.

Only team-mate Jamie Porter has taken more with 22.

Colchester-born Napier, the son of a policeman, attended the Gilberd School in the town of his birth. Graham has astoundingly never played for England and that will be his greatest regret of his amazing career.

He made his Essex debut back in 1997 and is in his 20th season as a professional cricketer. He has won five Essex trophies during his distinguished career.

He is often remembered for his record breaking innings of 152 not out in a T20 match at Chelmsford where the Sussex bowlers felt the full-force of his bat with 16 maximums being achieved.

Graham also remembers his phenomenal bowling against Surrey in the Nat West 50/50, where he will never forget clean bowling the Surrey overseas and superstar player, Ricky Ponting, with a 90 mph Yorker delivery.

He also created havoc that memorable night with a stunning four wickets in four consecutive balls.

His latest feat was his 14th five wicket haul at Hove last week. He has also made some significant runs down at number nine for his beloved Essex, their ‘tail wagging’ in their recent win over Gloucestershire and also in the drawn match at Hove.

I have had the opportunity to play with and against many international all-rounders and to think Graham never played for England is just incredible for someone who has so much talent.

Hitting the ball over the boundary or bowling at 90mph is real ‘Roy of the Rovers’ stuff and Graham has tonnes of it!

To think Ian Greig, Derek Pringle, David Capel, Chris Lewis, Anthony McGrath, Ian Austin, Phil Newport to name but a few have all played for England and ‘Napes’ has never. I know Ian Botham has always been an admirer.

Graham got close to playing an international game in 2009 at the inaugural T20 World Cup in England. He was in the 15-man England squad but sadly never played a game. What’s so great about ‘Napes’ the person? He is an extremely generous man, polite, hard-working, a good communicator and a great role model.

The next stage of his career after Essex is set to be in teaching where he is to take over the cricketing role at the Royal Hospital School, Holbrook, where I worked for nearly 24 years.

This will be an excellent fit as RHS want to continue to develop their cricket and ‘Napes’ is certainly the man to lead and enthuse their boys and girls.

He will offer the school a lot with his love of other sports too.

He was an Ipswich Town goalkeeper in his youth, decent golfer today and loves fishing too. So expect to see him around Suffolk and the Shotley Peninsula on one of its rivers, a Suffolk golf course and on the many school cricket fields of East Anglia for a good number of years to come.

Lesser cricketers than Graham Napier have played for England.