by columnist Ben Roberts
The current day Essex hero, Alastair Cook, returned home from his stellar 700 plus run Ashes tour to a heroes welcome. The Essex County Cricket Club has a long history of producing England representatives of the highest order. As well, Essex have also been a side described as providing entertaining and attractive cricket, but unfortunately lacking the depth of player resources in a smaller county.
With player resources, weather patterns and perhaps the moon and stars aligned, Essex have been able to produce historically noted performances. In 1948 they were the only county to dismiss the touring 'Invincible' Australians in under a day. Of course this was after they had totalled 721 runs!
The 1950s typified the Essex story. After finishing last in the 1950 season, Trevor Bailey and Barry Knight formed a bowling partnership that was as good as any in the country. Essex competed with all comers thanks to Bailey and Knight, but come the time of injury or national call up of these two the team was caught short of class players and could not sustain momentum.
Bailey was a fine all-rounder for Essex scoring over 20,000 runs and taking over 1,500 wickets. The 'Barnacle' was also a regular thorn in the side of England's opponents. Bailey was and still is an astute observer and student of the game, his play being thoughtful and his post playing career as a journalist and radio commentator likewise. Knight was a fast-bowler and attacking batsman who later emigrated to Sydney and set up one of the earlier indoor cricket coaching schools. The school, combined with Knight's wisdom, were to have a profound effect on future Australian captain Allan Border.
Border went on to be a high profile recruit during Essex's glory period in the mid 1980s. In the midst of a tumultuous and unsuccessful time in Australian cricket, Border, still relatively new to the position of Australian captain, took the opportunity to play with Essex during the southern hemisphere winter. Border was later to comment in his autobiography of the positive effect that this stint had on his career and captaincy.
The glorious 14 seasons from 1979 until 1992 yielded Essex the only County Championships in their history. They were led by Graham Gooch and Keith Fletcher, both now occupying 1st and 2nd positions in the list of all time run scorers for the county. In all, from 14 seasons Essex claimed six championships and also were able to provide the English team with a number of representatives, in some instances up to four at one time.
Sussex are the oldest county cricket club of them all. Despite the significance of their heritage, history is not favourable in terms of success for them. Pre-1890 Sussex was only declared “Champion County” once, and this was a shared title; and it took 113 years after the formation of the County Championship for Sussex to finally collected their first.
The county did not waste much time in collecting their 2nd and 3rd championships. They came at a speed in comparison to their first, in the 2006 and 2007 seasons. The winning of these three championships plus some limited over trophies dictated Sussex as the leading team of the decade. The decades conclusion was not without drama as post 2007's success, Sussex were relegated to and then won Division 2, to be promoted again, all in the space of three seasons.
Former Zimbabwe test cricketer and long time Western Australia representative Murray Goodwin played throughout the decade for Sussex. He made the highest ever score (335 not out) in Sussex history during the 2003 season in helping the county to the inaugural championship. His score remained a record until he beat it in 2009 with 344 not out.
County Championship regulars Michael Bevan and Michael Di Venuto both spent time at Sussex. Victorian and Australian player Tony Dodemaide played three seasons with the county from 1989 until 1991. In the 1990 limited overs cup competition Dodemaide helped Sussex dismiss the Irish national team for 72, his figures were 6 for 9 from 11 overs. Having captained Australian teams on tours to England in 1880 and 1882, Billy Murdoch was considered to be enough of a gentleman to be invited to captain Sussex. Murdoch took up this offer and later went on to represent England.
In the early history of the county championship Fred Tate followed by his son Maurice Tate were the counties leading bowlers. Fred collected 1,306 wickets for Sussex during his career and Maurice remains the leading wicket taker for the county by almost 400 wickets finished with a tally of 2,211. Where Fred was an exponent of off-spin, Maurice became a fast bowler. Maurice also had a highly regarded test match career, his 39 test matches yielding 155 wickets, and his lower order batting valuable for county and country as well.
Sussex also produced another great in Ted Dexter. Though later maligned for his stint as chairman of selectors, he was a great all-rounder for the county. The 1970-71 Ashes series brought to fame, at least in Australian eyes, the volatile and dangerous Jon Snow. The sometime poet in addition to his cricketing career was a player for Sussex for 18 seasons during the 1960s and 1970s.