Essex cricket committee chairman Graham Saville is delighted with the signing of Charl Willoughby who is expected to form a tireless new ball partnership with David Masters for the 2012 campaign.
“David Masters was the leading wicket-taker in the country last season and now we’ve got Charl, a left-armer who has regularly got 50 wickets in County Championship cricket and it seems just what we require,” Saville said. “He will also be able to help develop the young two left-arm bowlers that we’ve got on the staff.”
Essex have high hopes of those two young prospects, Reece Topley and Tymal Mills, although Saville admits that Topley is unlikely to be available to the county for much of next summer.
“People should realise that we are likely to be losing Reece for quite a lot of the season,” added Saville. “We looked at the England Under-19s fixtures the other day and we’ve worked out that Reece might just be available for about eight of our first-class matches.
“Obviously we’ve been very dependent on David Masters in recent seasons and with Chris Wright moving to Warwickshire, we didn’t really have any back-up bowlers.”
Willoughby, who will turn 37 next month, joins Essex on a two-year deal and becomes the county’s second South African-born signing for 2012 in addition to former Derbyshire all-rounder Greg Smith.
Fast-medium bowler Willoughby’s first taste of the County Championship came at Leicestershire in 2005 before he joined Somerset the following summer and, during his six years with them, he claimed 347 first-class wickets in 95 matches at an average of 27.49.
Saville also confirmed that Essex are looking to boost their batting options, particularly for the opening weeks of the season. “We are still looking for a top-order batsman chiefly for the first two months of the season until the IPL boys come back,” he explained.
Owais Shah and Ryan ten Doeschate are committed to the IPL next season while there is also the possibility that Ravi Bopara could also be involved, leaving Essex anxious to cover their absences.
“At the moment, we’ve got to wait to see who is available and we’ve got a few people working on that on our behalf but, frankly, we can’t do too much until we know who is going to be involved with the IPL,” added Saville.
Saville admits that the timing of that competition is particularly frustrating for the counties. “At one time, there were suggestions that the IPL might start earlier in the year but that isn’t happening in 2012 and there always seems to be reasons why they can’t change the scheduling,” he said.
“Obviously we would like to see it staged before our season starts but I’d be pessimistic about that happening.”