Essex may have begun their eighth County Championship match of the season lying in sixth place in Division Two, 22 points adrift of leaders Kent, but coach Paul Grayson believes that there is still all to play for as his team prepare to face Surrey at Guildford.
“Sometimes, one or two teams run away with the promotion race and the rest are always trying to play catch-up which is very difficult,” said Grayson.
“I think Kent are the best side in this division and they probably have got the strongest squad although that doesn’t automatically mean they are going to go up and I can’t honestly see any team running away with promotion.”
Grayson took on first team responsibilities in July 2007 when the club underwent a playing and coaching restructure following the enforced retirement through injury of then captain Ronnie Irani, and the former player, who also represented Yorkshire as well as Essex, admits that promotion now tops his priority list.
Setting out his blueprint for Essex to engage in a successful promotion tilt, he stated: “Championship cricket is now our main focus. We have nine more matches to play but I don’t feel that we can afford any more bad matches like the one we had against Glamorgan last week.
“We probably need to win four or five of our remaining matches and put in some real solid performances in the others over the next three months if we are to win promotion.
“It’s important for us to keep touch with the pacesetters and if we do that, when it comes down to the last three or four matches and we’ve got Danish Kaneria back, then hopefully we can produce pitches which suit our style of cricket.
“The match against Glamorgan showed the inconsistency of our four-day cricket completely. We should have got 500 in the first innings of the Glamorgan match but we didn’t, although all credit to their bowlers because they did well.
“Although I thought we bowled well on the first day, on the second day all our plans went out of the window and we lacked discipline and patience with the ball.
“Our first innings batting has been generally poor overall this season, as a total of eight batting bonus points shows. The Championship is all about getting your batting points and driving on from there to set the match up.”
Grayson was quick to acknowledge the influence of newcomer Hashim Amla who has been drafted into the squad as an overseas replacement while leg spinner Kaneria is on duty with Pakistan in Sri Lanka.
“Hashim saved the game for us against Glamorgan with his 181. He played really well and then he followed up with another century against Sussex in the Pro40 on Monday.
“He’s been excellent for us, he’s fitted in superbly, is a truly nice guy and he’s shown that he loves to bat. One of our problems in the last two or three years is that we haven’t had a top-class batter that the guys can look at and learn from.
“For me, Hashim has already shown that he is a brilliant signing and I’m really delighted that we’ve got him here.”