06 April 2022

Essex focused on further trophies amid fallout from racism scandal

06 April 2022

Essex will turn their focus back to on-field matters on Thursday for the start of the LV= Insurance County Championship season following a winter of racism allegations.

The Chelmsford-based county became engulfed in scandal last November when John Faragher resigned from his position as chairman over alleged racist remarks he made at a board meeting in 2017.

Faragher denied the accusation, but Essex this week pleaded guilty to two England and Wales Cricket Board charges of bringing the game into disrepute, one relating to the alleged comment and the other to the club’s failure to report or investigate the incident until recently.

While the club awaits their punishment from the Cricket Discipline Commission, expected to be a large fine after their guilty plea, a separate investigation is being conducted by Katharine Newton QC over historic allegations of racism involving former players.

Zoheb Sharif, Maurice Chambers and Jahid Ahmed have all alleged they were subjected to racism during their time with the county, although the PA news agency understands it is felt a shift in mindset and attitudes has occurred in the Essex changing room since the trio’s days, with Chambers the most recent to leave in 2013.

Current captain Tom Westley was not permitted to talk about the ongoing investigations during this week’s media day, but did acknowledge the impact of Anthony McGrath, who joined in 2016 before being promoted to head coach two seasons later.

“Anthony McGrath has created the best culture I have ever witnessed within a sport’s changing room,” Westley told the PA news agency.

“His fundamental is you sign on character. You sign people who are ambitious, who buy into the team and who are selfless. I think that has underpinned a lot of our success.”

McGrath’s arrival, coupled with Chris Silverwood being promoted from bowling coach in 2016, sparked a trophy-laden spell for Essex, with homegrown players at the heart of their achievements.

Two County Championship triumphs, sandwiched between a Vitality Blast title, were followed by Bob Willis Trophy success in the coronavirus-affected 2020 campaign, with academy graduates Sir Alastair Cook, Dan Lawrence, Jamie Porter and Sam Cook key throughout.

His fundamental is you sign on character. You sign people who are ambitious, who buy into the team and who are selfless. I think that has underpinned a lot of our success.

Westley is proud of the environment created at Essex which allows youngsters to flourish and is hopeful the likes of Feroze Khushi, Michael Pepper and Jamal Richards can make big strides this term.

“I know we have had a lot of success over the last five or so years, but the fact we averaged eight homegrown players last season, and it will be exactly the same this year, is one of our greatest achievements as a club,” Westley, a fellow academy graduate, said.

“As long as you priorities your homegrown players, it will always happen that they will get opportunities, they will learn off good senior players and how we go about our business.

“I think as long as we keep that balance and competition, I can’t see why, from the next crop of young Essex cricketers, several of them can’t step up, have long county careers and also push on for higher honours.”

Lawrence is the latest Essex player to represent England and was one of the few positives from last month’s tour of the Caribbean, hitting an eye-catching 91 to make it four half-centuries in 11 Tests.

The middle-order batter will be available to Essex for the opening six weeks of the season before he will hope for further international chances this summer against New Zealand and South Africa.

“Dan’s natural ability is up there with the best in the country,” Westley added.

“It is just whether he can get that extended run and opportunity and take his chance. I know he had a good tour of the West Indies, I’ve spoken to him a little bit already and he would have loved to have got a century.

“But I do think it is just a matter of time before he gets his first Test hundred and then it will be, ‘When is he available for Essex?’ not, ‘Will he play for England or not?’.”

Westley is optimistic Lawrence will not be the only Essex player in the England set-up this summer.

He said: “Sam Cook was bitterly disappointed not to be included on that West Indies tour and for me he is one of the best bowlers in the country.

“Last year showed how class he was. 58 wickets at 14, that was like schoolboy cricket really. I really do hope he gets some recognition.”

Even if Essex are without Lawrence and potentially Cook for several matches, the targets remain high.

“It is the strongest Essex squad I’ve been a part of so fingers crossed we have one or maybe a couple of trophies in the cabinet come the end of the year,” Westley said ahead of Thursday’s opener with Kent.

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