Championship Division Two - 5th;
FP Trophy - winners;
Twenty20 Cup – semi finalists;
Pro40 Division Two - winners
Essex enjoyed a successful 2008 season, confirming themselves as one of the premier limited overs teams in the country. Unfortunately a similar winning formula continues to evade them in the championship, where they will start 2009 in division two for the eighth time in 10 years of the two division structure.
Promotion should be an achievable target next season, as the county has emerged from a transitional phase. Mark Pettini has had a full year in charge after being handed the reins early on in 2007 and a selection of youngsters can also no longer cite inexperience as a reason for under-performance.
Paul Grayson has made an excellent start as coach and there is every reason to expect One Day success can be transferred to the longer format.
Essex possess a blend of youth and experience that has been complimented by some astute signings. David Masters excelled in coloured clothing, taking 22 wickets at 18.81 in 16 Friends Provident and Pro40 matches, maintaining an economy rate of 3.65.
Chris Wright blossomed late in the season to become the team’s strike bowler, which precipitated the release of Alex Tudor. Jason Gallian did a decent job as opener and has one more year to help develop the burgeoning talent of Tom Westley and Jaik Mickleburgh, who burst on to the scene with fluent half centuries in his first two championship knocks.
Maurice Chambers, Jahid Ahmed and Varun Chopra also showed glimpses of what they can offer in the long term and the youth policy which has provided England with Alastair Cook and Ravi Bopara is clearly in good order.
Bopara was in stunning form this season – England’s mystifying preference for Luke Wright is Essex’s gain – hitting 1,256 first class runs at 61.85 and 726 List A runs at 66 and a strike rate of 106.92.
Although home-grown players have made significant contributions, Essex’s Kolpak recruits have also been in good form.
Kent nemesis Grant Flower played calm match-winning innings in the Friends Provident final and Pro40 showdown and is an example of a Kolpak player who enriches a county squad. Ryan ten Doeschate falls into the same category, displaying all-round One Day skills that can only help the development of youngsters.
Senior players Graham Napier and James Foster produced some eye-catching performances in front of the TV cameras, although there is much more to both than their respective big hitting and sparkling glovework.
Napier was a reliable opening bowler in all competitions and Foster’s batting continues to be underrated – once again a case of England’s loss and Essex’s gain.
The one concern remains the absence of a class strike bowler to compliment cult figure Danish Kaneria. James Middlebrook and injury-plagued Tim Phillips struggled to maintain the spin department in the Pakistani star’s absence and Andre Nel was disappointing as an early season replacement.
The retention of Kaneria is crucial to Essex’s hopes next season, when it will be a case of more of the same, please, with the added bonus of a promotion push.
Player of the season: Bopara, Masters, Kaneria and ten Doeschate all deserve mentions, but James Foster’s peerless wicket-keeping and consistent run-scoring (1,544 in all competitions) was the most important part of the team’s success.
Most disappointing player: Westley and Chopra passed fifty only five times between them in 35 first class innings, but their time will come. Alex Tudor never quite delivered during his time at New Writtle Street, although he at least proved his injury problems can be managed.
Highlight: The seven derby clashes with Kent were all enthralling, with victory in the Friends Provident final standing out.
Lowlight: Essex and division two champions Warwickshire both won five matches, but were separated by 45 points. Being bowled out for 78 by a poor Glamorgan side at Southend was the prime example of some limp batting displays.
Written by Philip Oliver, a sports writer who blogs about cricket betting.