Four matches remained, and Lancashire were the most realistic of the pursuers to prevent table-toppers Essex hopes of the title. The two contenders met at Old Trafford where the famed Manchester weather lived up to its reputation. A rain-affected contest left the top-of-the table clash as a stalemate with 9 points apiece and Essex retaining their 36-point lead.
More than five sessions of play were lost in the match which concluded immediately after the visitors declared their first innings 8 wickets down and denying Lancashire the opportunity of another bowling point. At that juncture, the captains shook hands on the draw.
Chopra took over the captaincy from ten Doeschate who had returned to South Africa for personal reasons while Amir was absent due to a back problem.
Sam Cook made his Championship debut although he had to wait until 11.45am on Day Two before getting on the field after rain had washed out the opening day and initial stages of the following day.
He wasted little time in announcing his arrival when he bowled Liam Livingstone in his fourth over. Porter had already entered his name in the scorebook with a wicket in his first over and without a run scored. Wickets fell regularly as the visitors enjoyed a splendid start with their opponent sliding to 92 for 6. The remaining wickets offered more of a problem though adding 198 as opening batsman Haseeb Hameed held things together.
His vigilant and unyielding innings eventually ended after he had faced 250 balls spanning just over 5 and a half hours for 88 before Porter trapped him in front of his stumps to record his fifth 5-for of the season. The Essex batting lacked fluency against an accurate and persistent Lancashire attack.
Further rain kept the players off the field until 1.40pm on the final day, with the visitors 115 for 4 and the immediate target to avoid the follow-on. That was achieved when Foster drove the ball wide of slips to the boundary. As wickets fell, the next challenge was to realise at least one batting point and the ninth wicket pair of Walter and Porter resolutely spent 11 overs collecting the 28 runs required at that stage to realise that aim at which point the declaration came.
An eighth victory in the competition brought Essex to the cusp of their seventh County Championship title with a comprehensive victory with a day and a session to spare over Warwickshire. It was the second time in the season that Essex had beaten Warwickshire by an innings illustrating the huge gap in class between the two teams at the opposite ends of Division One.
There were more bowling heroics from prolific wicket-taking duo Porter and Harmer, whilst Chopra, Lawrence and Foster all made half-centuries, to allow the visitors to declare with first innings lead of 168 runs. Harmer collected eight wickets in the match and Porter seven as the pair continued to enjoy their own personal battle to end the season as top-dog.
Once again, Essex were professionalism personified in a display full of the quality that had been a character of their red ball cricket for the season. With Amir required for international duties with Pakistan, Wagner returned to the County having played the first seven Championship matches, whilst ten Doeschate was also back to lead the side following the death of his father in South Africa.
Struggling Warwickshire were bowled out for 201 having lost their last five first innings wickets in 6 overs for 20 runs as the Country’s leading bowlers, Porter and Harmer, shared 8 wickets. Chopra, on his return to Edgbaston, underpinned the Essex reply falling just two runs short of a century.
Fellow opener Browne scored 24 during which he passed 1,000 first-class runs for the season and when the declaration arrived on 369 for 9, Essex were in a formidable position and ready, willing and able to turn the screw tighter on their claims to the title. Warwickshire resumed on third morning on 9 without loss but their first wicket fell almost immediately and within 10 overs, they had capitulated to 25 for 4 with 20-year-old Cook claiming the distinguished scalps of former England leading batsmen Trott and Ian Bell. He induced the former to play on and had the latter caught behind, inside-edging a superb delivery.
A heavy shower arrived to suspend play before Lunch with Warwickshire 55 for 5 but it was only a brief stay of execution for the battle-scarred hosts. They were bowled out for 112 having lost their remaining wickets in 12 more overs to give the champions-elect reason to start celebrations, although Lancashire still had a mathematical chance of catching Silverwood’s specials.
But, the champagne bottles were finally uncorked less than 24 hours later, when Somerset beat Lancashire and that result formally confirmed that Essex were the new Champions allowing the celebrations to commence in earnest.
The feel-good factor suffered a temporary setback when the new supremos were skittled out for just 76 runs in reply to Hampshire’s 254 all out at Southampton, a total that was the result of half-centuries for George Bailey and James Vince. Essex were shot out for their lowest total since 2013 being undone by a destructive spell from Abbott. The paceman grabbed 4 wickets in 24 balls on his way to outstanding figures of 6 for 20.
Incredibly, not one of the ten Essex wickets to fall in their first innings needed the assistance of a fielder – all were lbw or bowled. Yet, despite following-on, Essex rallied to show just why they were the best red-ball side in the Country by a mile when they emerged winners by the convincing margin of 108 runs. It was a performance to leave even their Head Coach Silverwood “speechless”.
Trailing by 178 runs, a 147 partnership for the 4th wicket between Lawrence and Bopara wiped off the deficit and Essex began to sense that an unlikely victory was theoretically possible. A ninth wicket stand of 82 runs between Foster and Wagner gave them extra belief and the prospect of an absorbing conclusion with Hampshire set 185 runs to win in 67 overs.
Whilst Essex exuded confidence and purpose, their opponents became shell-shocked and totally demoralised. Cook was their perpetrator of their initial disasters with four of the first five wickets as the beleaguered home side recoiled in complete disarray.
They lost their first wicket with just a single on the board, lost three wickets with the total on 12 and failed to last out a session of play as a continuous stream of batsmen made their way to the middle to be summarily quickly despatched.
Half the side were out for 25, the next wicket fell four runs later and the only interest for Hampshire was to avoid their lowest score against Essex of 54 set in 1931. They overcame that ignominy but only after losing 8 wickets.
They were finally dismissed for 76 in a game that provided an amazing turnaround of fortunes. By a curious twist of fate, when Essex last landed the title in 1992, they had beaten Hampshire at Bournemouth after following on. Now the class of 2017 was to repeat the act.
The crowds turned out in huge numbers to honour the Champions in their own backyard and they were to be rewarded with another colossal victory, this time a margin of 376 runs. Essex went into the match unbeaten having won 9 of their 13 Championship matches and they clearly were in no mood to have that invincible tag taken at the last-gasp.
Yorkshire had an agenda of their own, still needing points to guarantee survival, but scores from elsewhere and a second bowling point from this encounter ensured that they would be amongst the new Champions opponents next year. After an uncontested toss, Essex lost their first 5 wickets for 80, including Westley who was struck on the right thumb when facing Steven Patterson with the ball looping to slip. The batsman rushed off and headed straight for the physio’s room before being sent to hospital for an x-ray that revealed bad bruising.
Later in the match, the unfortunate Westley’s anguish increased with the news that he was not to be part of the England Ashes tour party. Mid and late order impetus added some respectability to the total with Harmer now taking a starring role with the bat striking 64 out of 227 all out.
It was his highest score in an Essex sweater. He then produced another accomplished performance, this time in his more renowned role as a deadly spinner, taking 3-36 to support Wagner’s 3 for 21 and Porter’s 3 for 29. The visitors keeled over for just 111 and then the Essex batsmen went to work again, this time in telling fashion.
Browne and Lawrence both contributed 83 and enjoyed a partnership worth 139 for the third wicket, ten Doeschate scored 57 and Harmer once more showed his all-round talents with 58 not out.
When the overall advantage had been extended to 450 runs, the declaration was made. Yorkshire’s batting was again found wanting, facing an attack in which Cook again starred with figures of 5 for 20. It was his second 5-for, in three innings as the hapless and hopeless White Rose crashed to 38 for 8.
Only a stand of 34 for the ninth wicket delayed the visitors demise. Harmer ended that pocket of resistance leaving Wagner to round things off. Matt Fisher who scored 25, was the only batsman to score double figures, but he could not deal with a venomous delivery that brushed the glove as he dived out of the way with the ball caught by Foster.
All out for 74, it was the fourth time in the season that the Tykes had failed to exceed 150 in matches between the two sides.
Cue the start of the Essex celebrations as the trophy was presented to ten Doeschate before the squad, coaching staff, backroom staff and members and supporters joined in the fun and frolics that went on long into the night.
“One Team, One Dream” was the Club slogan for 2017. It could not have been a more apt catchphrase.
You can view more pictures from the victorious Championship winning season by purchasing the official 25 Years On Commemorative Book which is a pictoral journey of a season unbeaten from The Essex Cricket Store, priced at just £19.99 plus postage. Visit the Essex Cricket Store today by clicking on the book cover below and purchase your piece of history!