Although Essex head coach Paul Grayson accepts his side were not ready for promotion last year, the introduction of a couple of new faces leads him to believe that his squad is capable of proving worthy challengers in 2012.
“We are delighted to have signed Greg Smith and Charl Willoughby because we felt we just needed a bit more experience in the batting and bowling department,” he said. “We are still looking for an overseas batsman to help us through the first couple of months of the season while we have players away in the IPL and we are not too far away from signing the player we want which will help the balance of the side.
“With Charl supporting David Masters and with Graham Napier around, that gives us three experienced opening bowlers and then we have the younger lads - Reece Topley, Tymal Mills and Maurice Chambers. So we have a really good complement of bowlers there. Add in the all-rounders and the balance of the side looks pretty good.”
While more than content with his bowling armoury, Grayson believes that his batsmen hold the key to success. “It’s just a matter of getting more runs on the board next year because that has been a bit of a problem for us in the past couple of seasons, particularly in the first innings,” he added.
“Quite a few of our guys didn’t enjoy the best of seasons with the bat last year but they have all been working hard at their game during the winter. Some have been away and others have been working hard in the indoor nets. I know that there is a determination about them and they are already looking forward to next year and hoping for a big season.”
Grayson is delighted with the news that the Dukes ball will be used in both divisions of the County Championship, bringing to an end a three-year experiment with the controversial Tiflex ball in the second division. “It’s good that we are all going back to the one make of ball, and it makes sense,” he said. Grayson, however, is hoping that the quality of four-day pitches will improve, allowing matches to last the course.
“On a good surface, generally the best side wins the match over four days and that’s how it should be. You have one bad session and you can be out of the game whereas in the past, in three-day cricket, it often came down to a last day declaration and you could get away with having a poor session earlier in the match.
“But we do need to ensure that we play on good enough surfaces and pitches that make the game go into a fourth day rather than have a result wicket that sees a match over in two and a half days.”