Essex County Cricket Club is one of the 18 major county clubs which make up the English domestic cricket structure, representing the historic county of Essex. Its limited overs team is called the Essex Eagles and the current (2008) shirt sponsor is Shepherd Neame. The one day team colours this season are blue.
The club plays most of its home games at the County Cricket Ground, Chelmsford. It also plays some games at Lower Castle Park in Colchester, and at Garons Park in Southend. The club has formerly used other venues throughout the county including Ilford, Leyton Cricket Ground, Romford, and Billericay.
Essex C.C.C. is presently captained by Mark Pettini, and has a very strong limited-overs team, which has won the National League in both 2005 and 2006, won the Friends Provident Trophy final in 2008, and reached the current Twenty20 Cup finals day.
For Essex County Cricket Club’s List A records, see List of Essex List A cricket records.
It is almost certain that cricket reached Essex by the 16th century and that it developed during the 17th century with inter-parish matches being played.
The first definite mention of cricket in connection with the county is a highly controversial match in 1724 between Chingford and Mr Edward Stead’s XI, which is recorded in The Dawn of Cricket by H T Waghorn. The venue is unknown but, if it was at Chingford, it is also the earliest reference to cricket being played in Essex as well as by an Essex team. The game echoed an earlier one in 1718 as the Chingford team refused to play to a finish when Mr Stead’s team had the advantage. A court case followed and, as in 1718, it was ordered to be played out presumably so that all wagers could be fulfilled. We know that Lord Chief Justice Pratt presided over the case and that he ordered them to play it out on Dartford Brent, though it is not known if this was the original venue. The game was completed in 1726.
The earliest reference to a team called Essex is in July 1732 when a combined Essex & Herts team played against the famous London Cricket Club.
In July 1737, there was London v Essex at the Artillery Ground, London winning by 45 runs. In a return game at Ilford on 1 August 1737, Essex won by 7 runs.
References are then occasional until 1785 when the Hornchurch Cricket Club became prominent. This club had a very strong team that was representative of Essex as a county. However, the sources differed among themselves re whether the team should be called Essex or Hornchurch. But there is no doubt that Essex was a first-class county from 1785 until 1794, after which the county strangely and abruptly disappeared from the records for a long time.
Little was heard of Essex cricket from 1794 until the formation of Essex CCC on 14 January 1876 at a meeting in the Shire Hall, Brentwood. The new club did not become first-class until 1894.
Essex CCC played its inaugural first-class match on 14, 15 & 16 May 1894 versus Leicestershire CCC at Leyton. It was the initial first-class match played by either club, and Essex failed to win a match. In 1895, both of these clubs and Warwickshire CCC joined the County Championship. In the club’s first championship match, of their first championship season, James Burns scored 114 against Warwickshire at Edgbaston and this was the first-ever century for Essex in the County Championship. GF Higgins scored the second championship century for Essex in the same match putting on 205 with Burns for the 4th wicket. The club made an extraordinary score of 692 against Somerset,in which Burns made 0 but the most notable feat was by Walter Mead who took 17-119 against Hampshire CCC at Southampton.
Essex improved rapidly from 1895, so that by 1897 they were in the running for the Championship, only losing it when Surrey beat them at Leyton. They fell off after this despite beating a fine Australian team on a dubious pitch in 1899, never finishing higher than sixth between 1899 and 1932. Their batting on Leyton’s excellent pitches was generally good with the “Essex Twins” of Perrin and McGahey and the sound and skilful Jack Russell, but the bowling depended too much on Mead, Buckenham and later Douglas and when available Louden.
With the decline of these players, Essex fell to some of their lowest levels ever during the late 1920s. Their bowlers conceded over 40 runs a wicket in 1928 – about the highest ever with uncovered pitches. The emergence of Jack O’Connor, Stan Nichols and when available, the amateur fast bowlers Ken Farnes and Hopper Read, though, made Essex during the 1930s a dangerous if inconsistent side. They finished as high as fourth in 1933, and owing to their pace bowling maintained almost as high a standard up to the outbreak of war. The batting, however, tended to depend too much upon O’Connor and a number of amateurs who were rarely available, and Essex lost too many games to break the North’s stronghold on the Championship.
After the war, however, Essex fell off, taking their first wooden spoon in 1950. During ths period it was left to Trevor Bailey to do all the pace bowling, and he was often unavailable due to Test calls. Not until 1957 did Essex come back into the top half of the table, but Bailey and Barry Knight never had support of sufficient class to permit them to reach the top of the table, even when Robin Hobbs became England’s last successful leg-spinner late in the 1960s.
In the 1970s, with overseas players now permitted, Essex were able to gradually strengthen their team to achieve much more than they ever had before. This decade saw the advent of Graham Gooch, one of England’s finest ever opening batsmen, even though he began his Test career with a pair against Australia in 1975. He didn’t return to the England team until 1978, but after a slow start began to assert his dominance over Test bowlers as he had on the county scene. Dedicated to training, he forced his burly physique through a tough regime to prolong his career long after some of his contemporaries had retired.
Along with Gooch, county captain and England batsman Keith Fletcher built a powerful eleven in the late 1970s that dominated domestic cricket from 1979 to 1992, when Essex won six of thirteen County Championship titles. The bowling in the first half of this period was borne by tireless left arm seamer John Lever and spinner and prankster Ray East. The South African Ken McEwan and Fletcher were the best batsmen after Gooch. As Lever declined, England all rounder Derek Pringle and fast bowler Neil Foster took over, whilst John Childs crossed from Gloucestershire to take over as the chief spinner.
In the 1990s, Essex had more internationals, including Nasser Hussain, who captained England in several series. Bowlers Mark Ilott and Peter Such earned caps, as well as wicket keeper James Foster. Ashley Cowan toured the West Indies in 1997/98 without playing an international match. Essex were also able to sign England fast bowlers Darren Gough and Alex Tudor, after they left Yorkshire and Surrey respectively.
Enjoying a new sponsorship deal at their Chelmsford home, and a pitch which is always full of runs, Essex, led by combative all rounder Ronnie Irani and boasting the excellent Zimbabwe-born batsman Andy Flower in their ranks, currently have a young team with the talent required to relive their glory days. Recent use of overseas international players including Danish Kaneria and Andre Adams has also increased the overall strength of their squad. They fulfilled their promise by winning the National League Division 1 title in 2005, their first major title in eight years.
The future looks bright for Essex, especially with the breakthrough of young talent. Alastair Cook has become a regular England batsman, having previously been the England Under 19s captain, and after scoring a famous double century against the touring Australians in 2005. Ravinder Bopara is another promising youngster, who is widely tipped for success.
Essex facts and feats: