Gallery: County cricket is back on the menu

The domestic first-class cricket season started in earnest around the country yesterday.

The domestic first-class cricket season started in earnest around the country yesterday. Nick Garnham was among the crowd at Chelmsford as Essex faced Derbyshire

A MOOD of optimism ushered in the new county cricket season at the Ford County Ground in Chelmsford.

This summer promises to be one of the most exciting in the sport's history - a two-Test series against the West Indies followed by the ICC World Twenty20 and capped off with a five-match Ashes Series against Australia.

And Essex will be aiming to repeat their one-day success from last season - Friends Provident Trophy winners, Pro40 Division Two champions and Twenty20 Cup semi-finalists - while simultaneously improving on their four-day performances.

Freelance cricket journalist Nigel Fuller, who is entering his 40th season covering Essex, said: “I always look forward to the cricket season. As far as I am concerned it is the best game in the world.

“You always come here in anticipation that Essex will do well - and there's no reason they shouldn't this season - particularly in the one-day stuff.”

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Malcolm and Daphne Hay, who live in Brentwood and have been members for 30 years, were watching along with Margaret Hatchard, who is from Billericay and has supported the county since 1949.

Malcolm said: “We have been looking forward to the start of the season ever since the last match of last season.

“The only downside is the weather - they seem to start the season earlier every year - so the weather is less appealing which takes the edge off it.”

Margaret said: “I enjoy a relaxing day watching cricket.

“The short matches are exciting but not the same as a four-day game.”

The weather was overcast as a handful of hardy souls took up their seats an hour-and-a-half before the LV County Championship Division Two curtain-raiser against Derbyshire.

However, the sun was breaking through the cloud cover by late morning and a good-sized crowd were sprinkled around the ground.

Lifelong Essex supporter Danny Macklin, 28, who only took up his 'dream job' as the county's marketing and communications manager last December, said: “This is where the hard work starts.

“We have put in a lot of preparation over the last four months to try to ensure everything comes together.

“We have got a fairly good attendance today - somewhere around 1,000 - and we are hoping for a good season.

“We were a successful one-day side last year so it is a case of keeping that going and repeating that success in the four-day game as well.”

The club's reception area, now based inside the club shop, was being kept busy dealing with customers renewing their membership.

Kelly Dewes, manager of the club shop, reported that business had been “steady” on the first morning.

“We have seen a lot of our regular customers appearing today. Some people have been wanting to buy the Playfair cricket annual, but they have been delayed, but our own handbook is selling well as are caps, clothing and seat cushions,” she said.

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