Essex are strong contenders for promotion next season, but must rid themselves of their victim status if they are to regroup in time.
Head coach Simon Grayson insists that his side should rightfully have been promoted this season, but were robbed by the presence of Saeed Ajmal in the Worcestershire team – the Pakistan bowler was subsequently suspended for an illegal bowling action far exceeding the limit.
Gulf between divisions
However, Lancashire and Northants’ relegation back to Division Two after just one season served as a reminder of the gulf between the two tiers, and it will perhaps do Essex some good to spend at least one more season improving.
Counting against them is the fact that their best batsman, Alistair Cook, is almost constantly away on England duty. Though that is a familiar plight for many teams in Division One, it is far more uncommon in Division Two, but it is something Essex must deal with. Even without Cook, they have carved out a strong squad.
The Eagles have been boosted by the news that Mark Pettini has signed a one-year contract extension, which means he will spend a fifteenth season with the county.
Interestingly, when asked about the Pettini deal, Grayson told the BBC of the club’s “ambition to win a one-day competition next year”, which makes the 31-year-old a valuable asset.
Having come so close to promotion this year, it certainly seems odd that Grayson should focus on winning a one-day trophy, even if it is a more lucrative path, which could suggest he is under pressure from the board.
Pettini’s aggressive style of play is the kind of approach that needs to be embraced by Essex as a whole.
They are already making all the right moves in terms of comings and goings at Chelmsford, getting in early to ensure they are well ahead of the game before pre-season has even started.
England’s Ravi Bopara has also been tied down with a one-year extension, as has New Zealand maverick Jesse Ryder, who put in some incredible performances in the Royal London One-Day Cup this season.
Meanwhile, veteran Sajid Mahmood – also a former Three Lions man - and 22-year-old Tymal Mills are heading for the exit door as Grayson looks to shake up his bowling attack.
Of all the major counties, Essex are arguably the most prepared for next year, at least at this stage. It remains to be seen whether that can be converted into promotion and trophies.
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