Essex captain Ryan ten Doeschate pointed to the character shown by his charges when they beat Kent at Canterbury by three wickets after an incredible third day’s play. Conceding a first-innings lead of 112, they dismissed their opponents for just 40 – Kent’s lowest score in their history against Essex.
Requiring 153 for victory, the visitors reeled to 84-6 before Adam Wheater saw them across the line with an unbeaten 30, having shared in a 57-run partnership with Simon Harmer.
“I always believe in this group because they’ve turned in some brilliant performances over the years but this was right up there,” ten Doeschate acknowledged.
His Essex side sit proudly at the top of the table with a two-point advantage, having won six successive matches in the competition to extend their unbeaten run to nine games during which they overhauled Somerset, who are now in their slipstream.
“It’s been quite draining mentally if not physically knowing that we had to keep winning games just to stay in the Championship race,” he admitted.
“I did think at one stage that it might be hard to catch Somerset, they were 50 or 60 points ahead of us and that’s a considerable margin. And it’s so rewarding to know that we have been in situations when we couldn’t afford to slip up, but we overcame it as we did against Kent.
“It’s been an incredible effort. To be in the running to win the title with three games to go is a great achievement and just rewards for work the lads have put in.
“I think that is the beauty of the Championship, knowing that you have to be consistent every game, you know that you can’t slip up for more than a session every three or four games.
“Bowling in Championship cricket is always the most important thing because you can usually find runs from somewhere, I know the runs haven’t been great, but to win matches, you have to bowl the opposition out twice. Our bowlers have been heroic in the last few matches.”
And ten Doeschate is glowing in his tribute to the quick to of influence Simon Harmer. The off-spinner is the leading wicket-taker in the Championship with 65 Championship wickets and that includes seven five-fors.
“He’s been incredible,” he enthused. “It’s hard to put into words how good Harmy is at this level. You chuck him the ball and expect him to get wickets all the time – and he seems to! With him bowling long spells, it allows the seamers to be used in short spells. The pressure Harmy creates allows others to pick up wickets off the back of his hard work.
“But what is also outstanding is the mentality of particularly the young guys who have only been playing three or four years. They have this belief that we can win for any position. That’s probably one reason why, when things look to be against us, we always bounce back and put in high levels of performance. Sam Cook, for example, was brilliant against Kent with 12 wickets in the match yet he had been out of action since mid-June.”
Born in Port Elizabeth, ten Doeschate is a Dutch South African who joined Essex back in 2003 and went on to represent Netherlands at one-day International and Twenty20 international level. After years of serving in the Essex ranks, he took over the captaincy in 2016 from James Foster and brought with him a talismanic quality into the role. The county secured promotion in his first year at the helm and then went on to lift the County Championship title for the first time since 1992 the following term. Third in 2018, they are now laying down a serious challenge for the crown this summer.
Ten Doeschate has led his side in 52 Championship matches of which 31 have been won while he has tasted defeat just seven times. That is a phenomenal record and one of which the skipper is justifiably proud.
“Yes, it is impressive but it’s not about me, it’s the ten others that I lead out and what they bring to the party,” he said. Now 39 years old, he does admit that leading the side brings pressure. “I put a lot of energy into captaining the side, not only on the field but I’m always thinking about the game, about tactics and it is mentally draining, I won’t shy away from that,” he said. “But that’s why it is so rewarding when you get success.
“Away from matches, I try not to worry about things and not concern myself with things I cannot control. That’s where Cooky (Alastair Cook) is brilliant; he’s a master of that.”
It was back in 1979 when Keith Fletcher led Essex to the first of their seven County Championship titles but after Graham Gooch lifted back-to-back titles in 1991 and ’92, a 25-year wait followed until ten Doeschate’s troops lifted the crown with a stunning record of ten wins from their 14 matches and no defeats.
Now, as Essex lead the charge to fly the pennant for the second time in three years, perhaps a new golden age is dawning. Ten Doeschate admits that there is a different attitude this year compared with the ‘surreal’ success a couple of years ago.
“Yes, I think that’s a good description,” he acknowledged. “We had just come up and there were quite a few people, not with the club I hasten to add, who thought we might be heading straight back down again.
“But our group were really positive. I can remember us saying that we were not in Division One just to make up the numbers. We would compete and do well. To win the title was, of course, a dream and, yes, surreal, but we thoroughly deserved it. This year, there is expectation on us and there will be no real surprise if we do manage to lift the title.
“But I don’t want to get too carried away, Somerset are hot on our heels, there’s still a lot of cricket to be played and we meet each other at Taunton in the final match of the season in what could be the decider.
“What a game that would be to end the season!”
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