White shoes, white ball…let’s all have a disco!

There are alot of stereotypes about Essex.  Ford Capri’s, dumb blondes, the birthplace of the Chav, Southend and day tripping Eastenders are all some of the cautionary tale subjects in the past year, but one bright spot in the past year has been form of Essex Eagles.  Last season the team won the Friends Provident Trophy, beating arch rivals Kent, their first trophy in a number of years.  However, the biggest story was in the Twenty20 where the club were almost unbeatable at Chelmsford.  The star in those games was Graham Napier who rose to prominence as an all-rounder par excellence.  Not only did he return figures of 4 for 10 in 4 overs from their Quarter Final versus Northants but more importantly he scored an amazing 152 not out in the game versus Sussex Sharks.  That evening in late June 2008 will be long remembered by all of those few thousand who were in the ground that night.

Napier came to the crease with the score 13-1 in the second over, and proceeded to dominate the strike, breaking records left right and centre.  Not only was his final 152 not out the highest Twenty20 score ever in the UK (only 2nd ever century for Essex in this competition), but the 242-3 was Essex’s highest ever total in the competition (actually 48 more runs than their second biggest score).  Napier and James Foster put on the one and only hundred partnership in Essex’s history (119 as a 3rd wicket partnership) and Napier  scored his final total from just 58 balls and included 10 fours and an amazing 16 sixes (meaning he hit 136 in boundaries from twenty six balls!!!) which equalled the most ever sixes in an innings in a English game…

Essex went on to reach the Finals day for the first time and came up against Kent again although this time the Spitfires came out on top, neutralising the Napier effect by hitting him for 33 off 3 overs and only allowing him to score 3 runs.  Napier’s success had led him to the English World Cup squad, much to the Eagles loss this season although they had recorded wins against the odds versus Kent, Surrey and Sussex prior to this.

Chelmsford is actually easier for me to reach than all other grounds bar the Oval.  It is actually quicker as well – a simple 35 minute drive round the M25 and up the A12.  Whilst the Oval and Lords are nearer, public transport is a hassle and takes the journey times on a bad day to well over an hour.  After parking in one of the side streets I headed into the ground, which was at almost capacity as the first ball was bowled.  The thing that struck me was the mismatch of styles around the ground.  A couple of small double decker stands, a couple of single covered ones (why do you need a cover?  If it rains there wont be any play!), marquee type executive boxes on the pitch side and a strange paddock area in front of the main stand where children played whilst the game went on.  I had my money firmly on a home win, and after seeing some disappointing batting displays I was hoping that the ghost of Napier would rub off on some of his team mates present.

So far this season I had seen eight innings of Twenty20 with an average score of 127.  Overall in the competition this season the average score had been a tad higher at 131 – compare this to the highest average of 2006 when the score was 166!

Essex Eagles 126-7 lost to Sussex Sharks 130-2 by 8 wickets – The County Ground, Chelmsford – Wednesday 3rd June

Lighting the way for the Sharks

Lighting the way for the Sharks

Firstly, please excuse the quality of today’s photos.  I unfortunately left the trusted Fuller camera in the house and so had to fall back on the Blackberry’s camera phone which hasn’t done a bad job actually.

So four Twenty20’s down and an average batting innings of 127 hasn’t really filled me with excitement for the World Twenty20.  Essex Eagles were last year’s big hitters and I expected to see some fireworks in this one, especially as Alaistar Cook started off with a few glorious strikes in the first two overs.  In fact with the score at 30-0 off 3 overs it looked very promising for the Eagles.  But that really was the high point in a disappointing innings as they scored a further 96 runs off 17 overs after Cook departed, bowled by Chad Keegan for 18.  Sussex could certainly be pleased with their contribution both in terms of fielding (restricting the Eagles to just 9 boundaries) and some outstanding bowling by Dwayne Smith whose 3 for 19 was a fabulous return from his four overs.

The ground was pretty full and I had to make do with a “restricted” view from the back of the stands.  What surprised me was the number of groups of blokes standing around the concourse area drinking and having no intention of watching any of the game.  Whilst a few will be on corporate jollies, others will have paid £20+ for the privilage of entry and will have seen nothing of the game.  Yes I appreciate that it wasn’t actually that good a game, but surely they could have at least supported their team?

And support Essex needed.  Hamilton-Brown and Goodwin took to the attack from the first ball, signalling their intent with an attacking opening stand of 74 before Hardinges took two relatively quick wickets.  But with Goodwin scoring the tenth highest Twenty20 score against Essex in 64 not out (including 6 x 4’s and 2 x 6’s) and Yardy anchoring the other end with a steady 19 they easily reached the modest target with ten balls to spare.

The win saw Sussex top the Southern League, albeit having played two more games than anyone else, and Essex slip to second, level on points with Kent with only two guaranteed to go through.  How they wish they had a Napier of June 2008 in their team.  With the floodlights twinkling away in the Essex night sky the crowds headed off to Sam’s, the original home of white shoes and dancing around the handbags to ease away the pain of a home defeat.


About the Ford County Ground
The 6,500 capacity County Ground has been the headquarters of Essex since 1967. The ground is notoriously windy but with great drainage following improvements in 1982. It is a compact ground for a county HQ, but nevertheless much use has been made of the space available. The ground has one double-decker seating area, marquees, executive suites and mostly single-tier seating. Its pavilion, built in the 1970s, has recently been extended and contains all sorts of memorabilia.. It is also one of the only four current grounds with permanent floodlights which were installed in 2002. Graham Gooch has scored most of his 40,000 plus first-class runs here and Essex have had their most successful seasons here, too. Surrey will remember one match for a different reason, though: in 1983, they recorded their lowest innings of 14. The crowd are close to the boundary rope in most places and can make for an intimidating atmosphere akin to Upton Park!  A new development of flats to the south of the ground offer some fantastic (and free) views.

Thanks to Cric.info for some of the above info

How to get to the Ford County Ground
If you are coming by car then follow the A12 from the M25 junction 28 eastwards for around 9 miles until you get to junction 15 signposted A414 Chelmsford.  Follow this along the dual carriageway then over two roundabouts.  At the third (follow brown signs for cricket) turn left and the ground is a mile down the road on your left.  There is plenty of car parks in the town centre or street parking for night games or Sundays.  The nearest railway station is Chelmsford which is a 10 minute walk away. 

How to get a ticket for the Ford County Ground
As with most cricket, ticket availability depends on the type of game.  For the one day games against the likes of Surrey, Middlesex and Kent then advance booking is recommended as they can sell out.  General ground admission is £20 with an extra £7 for a reserved seat.  For county games the price is £16.  They can be bought online at http://www.essexcricket.org.uk/tickets.html or by phone on 01245 252420.

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