By Richard Edwards
Paul Prichard is backing Essex to continue their title tilt – despite the likely absence of Alastair Cook for the majority of the rest of the county’s campaign.
Essex won five County Championship titles during opener Prichard’s time at the club, including the 1992 crown which remains the county’s most recent.
With just six matches of the season remaining, Chris Silverwood’s side find themselves 29 points clear of nearest challengers, Lancashire, after an unbeaten start to the season.
A lot of that has been down to Cook, who has scored 667 runs at 66.7 for the county.
Prichard, though, believes that the consistency showed by the likes of Dan Lawrence, Nick Browne, Varun Chopra and Tom Westley will ensure the county continues to set the pace, particularly with the astonishing performances of South African spinner, Simon Harmer, whose 47 wickets have cost just 21 apiece.
And he sees parallels between this side and that which won five county titles between 1982 and 1993.
“Obviously Cookie played exceptionally well for the first months of the season, which has allowed the bowlers to bowl at something,” says Prichard, now coach of Minor Counties Dorset.
“But even with Cookie back to England, with Chopra, Lawrence, Westley and Browne, I still think the Essex bating is pretty strong.
“The big plus has been Harmer because to win a title you need to take 20 wickets every game and it looks like Essex have got their best attack for a quite a long time.”
It is the performances of Lawrence, Browne and Chopra, however, which have had the locals purring and it represents a return to the days when the likes of Prichard and Graham Gooch carried the hopes of the county.
“I was Essex born and bred,” says Prichard. “It’s always nice to see young, home produced players coming through and scoring runs and taking wickets. It doesn’t always happen but the nucleus of the side is homegrown and with plenty of years on their side.
“There are similarities between this side and our team. Our team in the Eighties and Nineties was predominantly homegrown with players having come through the Essex youth system. It’s a credit to the county for the youth system that’s in place and the club’s ability to get those players through the system and into the first team.
“Essex have managed to blend a team of youth and experience and have got them playing winning cricket. For me, it was great to come into a side as a youngster and play alongside players who were used to winning matches.
“That really rubs off on you. It’s a lot harder to improve and get better if you’re a young player in a losing team.”
The champagne is on ice at Chelmsford. It is now up to the men of Essex to show that they can handle the heat.