(Photo: Stephen Pond / Getty Images)
By Ross Lawson
IN THE end, David Masters knew it all along – just one decent spinner stood in the way of Essex and a first County Championship title in a quarter of a century.
But for the club stalwart, embarking on his first year post-retirement, just having the chance to watch Simon Harmer made the 25-year itch very pleasurable to scratch.
Plucked as a Kolpak signing at the end of last season, very few in Chelmsford had heard of the offie who had played a smattering of Test matches for South Africa.
He had been steady without pulling up trees but, by the time June had finished with successive match hauls of 14 wickets, Harmer’s talent was no longer a secret, not least to Masters.
Come September, some ten wins and 72 Harmer wickets later, the cat was very much out of the bag.
“He is 100 per cent the difference,” explained Masters, who brought a nine-year association with Essex to an end by retiring last summer.
“Without Harmer, they probably wouldn’t have won the league.
“They may have pushed it close, but to have that spinner there to not only control the game with his economy, but to take a bucket-load of wickets too is something we’ve been lacking since Danish Kaneria seven or eight years back.
“The batting was never going to be a problem this season, we’ve always been strong, it was whether we could take that bowling up a level.
“I don’t think anybody realised just quite how good a spinner Harmer was. I always said that if you had a world-class spinner in the team of the last five years, someone like him, we would have fought and done well in every competition.
“Because we didn’t have that before this year I didn’t think we would win it. I knew we would compete well and expected mid-table or a little bit higher.”
Six years of Division Two cricket had preceded this campaign, with the last of those seeing the curtain fall on Masters’ esteemed career as well as Graham Napier’s, despite securing promotion.
But returning to his father Kevin’s building site – as he did across every playing winter – has made Masters’ transition vastly easier. And while many would have a tinge of regret about bowing out a year before ending a 25-year wait for the title, the 36-year-old is not among that group.
“To watch them win one year after my retirement actually made it better for me,” he added. “Some people would wish they were there but I honestly didn’t, I’m so happy ending it when I did.
“I was nervous about them missing Graham Napier when I retired, but they’ve certainly shown that not to be a problem.
“To go unbeaten is all because of belief, confidence was oozing and what a fantastic year it has been – now they have to go and figure out how they do it next year.”