Essex are seeking experienced support for this summer’s leading wicket-taker David Masters and it is understood that the man they are targeting is Somerset new ball bowler Charl Willoughby.
Although he will be 37 years old by the start of the 2012 campaign, Essex view the South African born player as the ideal support act to Masters who finished the season with 93 County Championship wickets.
They had been hoping to persuade Charlie Shreck to join them following his release by Nottinghamshire but the player opted to move to Kent, leaving Essex to pursue an alternative option and it is Willoughby who fits the bill.
Although Masters enjoyed a wonderful season, there was no consistent meaningful support from his county colleagues with Graham Napier (28 wickets) and Reece Topley (25 wickets) collecting the next highest tally of victims.
Willoughby, who played for Leicestershire in 2006 before moving to Somerset the following year, took 47 Championship scalps for the West Country outfit this summer in 14 matches and is now UK-qualified. Capped twice for South Africa, he has also played for Cape Cobras, Boland and Western Province and has 827 first-class wickets to his name at 25.83.
Essex are also expecting to complete the signing of Derbyshire all-rounder Greg Smith within the next couple of weeks on a two-year deal. The 28-year-old would initially join as a non-qualified player although it is anticipated that he will be granted UK status in 2012.
Smith is seen as a valuable addition to the squad where his upper-order batting, seam bowling and ability to also bowl off spin will provide useful options in all formats of the game.
Another player on the Essex radar is Hashim Amla who has been sounded out to return for the first two months of the season as the county’s overseas player. However those plans could be scuppered if the South African Test player, who made such an effective and influential impression during a month’s stay at Chelmsford in 2009, receives an offer to play in the IPL.
Meanwhile, popular all-rounder Napier, who made his Essex debut in 1997 and was capped in 2003, has been awarded a benefit by the county for 2012.