By Charlie Talbot-Smith
IF YOU stand still, you go backwards – Anthony McGrath and Essex have no intention of letting the chasing pack catch up with them in 2018.
The defending County Champions strengthened their ranks earlier this month with the signing of two Australian internationals in Peter Siddle and Adam Zampa.
Siddle will arrive at Chelmsford for the first five games of the Championship season while leg-spinner Zampa will join for the t20 Blast.
And while it is Jamie Porter and Simon Harmer who got the headlines for their bowling heroics last year – they combined for 147 first-class scalps – it should not be overlooked that their overseas options also made a huge impact.
Mohammad Amir and Neil Wagner both made sizeable contributions and when it comes to the County Championship this time around – Siddle is expected to do the same.
And McGrath, who takes over the top job from Chris Silverwood this season after being assistant head coach last term, did plenty of research before opting for the 33-year-old.
“Boof (Australia coach Darren Lehmann) has been busy with the Ashes and so on, but I have had a few texts from him,” said McGrath, who played with Lehmann at Yorkshire.
“Jason Gillespie as well who has worked with Siddle at the Adelaide Strikers. As most teams do, we try and do our homework on players we are looking to sign.
“Alastair Cook also has played against him a number of times, so we have got someone who is very experienced and we know is going to give us something on and off the pitch.
“If you look at teams that do well in red ball cricket, they have a pool of bowlers which they can pick from and use in different conditions and on different days.
“We know that Peter has already got huge experience with Australia, he’s a fantastic bowler and we just think his style of bowling will really help our attack in those first five County Championship games where traditionally in April and May it seams about.
“He is that type of bowler, he is at you all the time and looks to take wickets and hopefully he will add to what we have already got.
“In my opinion, picking your overseas is as much about what they can bring off the field as well. He is a fantastic character, he is someone that likes to give to the group and to the team.”
Zampa, meanwhile, joins for the Blast as Essex look to end a number of years of underachievement – they have not made Finals Day since 2013 and never won a T20 crown.
While there is little room for improvement this year with the red ball, the white ball is a big area to work on. And McGrath – who appointed Dimitri Mascarenhas as his assistant coach last week – reckons Zampa will be just the man for the job.
“Traditionally, before I came here, everyone said what a good white-ball team Essex are but if you look at the stats we have probably underperformed,” he added. “We played well in the 50-over last year but got beaten by Notts. The T20 stuff, if we are being honest, we have been off the pace for a few years.
“We want to improve on that and we are looking at areas we can. That wicket-taking and mystery in the middle overs is one we have identified.
“You look at the t20 leagues and leg spin has been really important over the last few years. It’s not only the economy rate but the strike rate and getting wickets.
“I have been keeping my eye on Adam for a while. He did really well in the IPL, he did really well for Australia over the last couple of years. He’s got great experience for someone who is not that old and hopefully tactically he can bring a different angle to what we have already got.”
Former England all-rounder Mascarenhas will take up the assistant role at Chelmsford from the beginning of next month.