What Happened Last Year?
After winning the County Championship in 2019, Essex followed that up with another championship in 2020 by beating Somerset to the Bob Willis Trophy.
Essex comfortably navigated a difficult group that included Kent, Middlesex, Hampshire, Surrey and Sussex. A draw against Hampshire was the only mark on the record as they recorded four wins out of five to progress to the final at Lords.
The final was a hotly contested affair with Essex winning based on their first innings total after the game was drawn. Former England captain Alastair Cook scored 172 in the first inning to vault his side to the championship
Overall it was a great year for Essex, with Alastair Cook averaged 56.30 with the bat showing that he's still the best English opener on the circuit. Wicket-Keeper Adam Wheater enjoyed a superb season averaging over 58 with the bat.
Essex got meaningful contributions up and down the lineup, but it was their bowling that made them hard to beat. South African Simon Harmer enjoyed another stellar campaign taking 38 wickets at an average of 15.86. He was supported by the pace of Sam Cook (17 wickets at 18.70) and Jamie Porter (27 wickets at 20.48).
Key Player for 2021
Essex are always likely to have match-winners in the bowling unit, whether that's Harmer, Cook or Porter, or even Aaron Beard. However, if they want to take home both the County Championship and the Bob Willis Trophy in 2021, they'll nee Alastair Cook to be at his absolute best again at the top of the lineup.
Despite a number of talented batsmen, only 4 players averaged over 30. It's not easy batting on the county ground, and due to the bowling Essex don't tend to have to score a mountain of runs to secure victory. However, we saw in the final against Essex how important top-order runs can be and Cook has been the best in the business for a long time now.
If Cook can maintain his 2020 form in 2021, it's hard to imagine many teams being able to beat Essex.
Dan Lawrence finished his first tour with England strongly with scores of 46 and 50 in the final test against India. He'll be looking to come back to Essex and stake his claim to keep his place for the English summer. Lawrence was a bright spot for England this winter, as despite struggling for periods, you saw his ability to adapt and score runs in difficult conditions. It's important that England stick with him over the summer.
Longer-term I'm looking at Feroze Khushi, the talented 21-year-old batsmen who got his first taste of first-class cricket last season. Khusi only averaged 25 but he had a composed 66 against Surrey and a knock of 45 against Kent. Big things are expected of Khushi at Essex and with Lawrence likely to be away with England, 2021 is a big opportunity.
The target for this year?
With Essex having won County Championships in 2017 and 2019, and the Bob Willis Trophy in 2020, anything but a challenge for the title will be seen as a disappointment for 2021.
Essex are well placed to escape their group which includes Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, Durham, Warwickshire and Worcestershire. They have the bowling to beat any team, but do they have the batting?
I expect Lawrence to miss some time, so the run-scoring will rest heavily on Cook. Although they have plenty of talent in the batting department, they'll need more consistency. Ryan ten Doeschate, Tom Westley and Varun Chopra all have the technique to score big, and Essex will need them to come through if Cook struggles. Expect Wheater to have another good year.
Simon Harmer will again be a key man for Essex, Harmer has been one of the more consistent bowlers in the County Championship since landing in Essex in 2017. When you add Peter Siddle to a group that includes Harmer, Cook, Beard and Porter, Essex's bowling will again be an elite unit.
Overseas players: Simon Harmer, Peter Siddle