There’s a different format for the 2021 County Championship. Instead of two divisions, there are three groups of six with ten games being played by each side. That takes us up to mid-July when first class cricket takes a break for the obviously more important one-day tournaments. Another group stage of the county championship begins on August 30 before the champions are crowned. Will that be Essex?
The reigning county champions will be in the same group as Warwickshire, Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, Worcestershire and Durham. To qualify for what is being called Division One, Essex will need to finish in the top two of this group.
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Essex have played their first group fixture, drawing at home with Worcestershire. It was a great start for Tom Westley. The Essex captain scored 213 in their first innings total of 490-9 dec. That is a massive boost for the county after his poor season in 2020.
Worcestershire replied with 475 in a marathon 181 over innings, 61 of which were bowled by South African Simon Harmer. That ended a run of wins in four-day matches for Essex going back to 2018.
They won the Bob Willis Trophy last season, a tournament that replaced the delayed County Championship. The final against Somerset was drawn but Essex were handed the trophy as they had a first innings lead.
Their chief executive Derek Bowden left when the 2020 season ended. He’s not been replaced yet with chairman John Faragher taking over the role. Fans won’t be allowed to attend games until June 21, that’ll help their finances and give a better atmosphere at matches.
Simon Harmer has already been mentioned but he’s not their only overseas player. Peter Siddle is also back to boost their bowling attack.
This is looking like being the final season for both Sir Alastair Cook and Ryan ten Doeschate with both on one-year contracts. Cook may be 36 years of age, but the last two seasons have seen him end with an average in the 50s. Doescate is 41 in June but is another player Essex can always depend on.
As well as Siddle and Harmer, Essex have Jamie Porter and Sam Cook who can cause problems for any team they face. The early season will see Dan Lawrence available before any possible international call-up. Whatever the format, Essex has a good chance of again winning the title.