Despite offering James Foster a renewed contract, Essex have given the 31-year-old permission to explore contract options with Hampshire, having received a formal notification from them requesting permission to approach the player.
“He asked us for a three-year contract and we agreed to that which shows our commitment to the player,” Essex cricket committee chairman Graham Saville said.
“I thought that was the security he wanted and assumed that was the end of the matter. We feel that we have done everything we can for him. We don’t want to lose him and have never wanted to lose him. We think he is the best wicketkeeper-batsman in England.”
Essex fans and followers will be stunned that their captain, who is in the middle of a benefit year, could leave the club. He took over as skipper when Mark Pettini stepped down in the middle of last summer but, despite the added responsibility, has continued to turn in eye-catching performances with the gloves and is currently Essex’s leading run-scorer in the County Championship.
David East, Essex’s chief executive said, “He has been with Essex for his entire professional career and it would be hugely disappointing if he was to leave at this time.”
Paul Grayson, the Essex head coach added: “We want him to stay but we have given Hampshire an early opportunity to speak with James so we can understand as soon as possible where we are with this. We see him as an integral part of our club and strongly feel we have made him a good offer to remain at Essex.
“We clearly do not want to lose his services and want him to remain with us until the end of his career, but the decision is now for him to make.”
It is understood that Essex are expecting Foster to have decided his future by the end of this week.
Although he is still widely acknowledged as one of the finest keepers in the game, Essex do have an able deputy in talented 21-year-old Adam Wheater who has forced his way into the side as a batsman this season. They also have England Under 19 wicketkeeper-batsman Ben Foakes waiting in the wings.
What would be more problematical for Essex, should Foster decide to leave, is the choice of his successor as captain. Possibles Ravi Bopara, Owais Shah and Ryan ten Doeschate could all be missing for the first few weeks of next season because of IPL calls, with Bopara also a candidate for England commitments, while former captain Pettini, is no longer a first choice in the four-day side.
If Foster does opt to move on, Essex may be persuaded to look to bring in a new captain from elsewhere for 2012.