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Essex threaten to get busy at the business end of the season

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It is the business end of the season, and Essex are threatening to get busy. The next week or so holds out the promise of being a momentous one for the club. Modestly resourced but tightly run from their endearingly ramshackle Chelmsford HQ, the culmination of the summer brings opportunity on two fronts – a rare chance in the modern county game to enjoy simultaneous first-class and limited-overs success.

It is more than a decade since Sussex last managed to combine winning the Championship with taking home one-day silverware as well, beating Lancashire in the 2006 FP Trophy final. Currently top of Division One, Essex know they are in a scrap to hold off Somerset and claim a second title in three years; but before that denouement in Taunton, Vitality Blast Finals Day and the chance of a maiden T20 trophy.

Such an outcome looked more than a long shot back in August, when they had won just two of their first ten games. Essex were “dead and buried”, says Ryan ten Doeschate, captain of the Championship side and a vastly experienced old lag in T20. Then came three wins and a tie from the last four and something in the universe aligned – not since the Blast had switched to a 14-game season, had a team sneaked through to Finals Day on such meagre rations.

Also read: ‘Young players win you games, but experience wins you titles’ – Gurney

Success had not been signposted by Essex’s recent T20 form, either. Last season brought just two victories and a seventh-place finish in the South Group, while the most recent of four previous Finals Day appearances came in 2013.

Ten Doeschate has been involved in them all, though none was particularly memorable from an Essex perspective. “Is it four?” he asks, furrowing his brow. On each occasion – against Leicestershire in 2006, Kent in 2008, Hampshire in 2010 and Northants six years ago – Essex were beaten in the first semi-final. The joke going around this time is that, with their game against Derbyshire scheduled for 2.30pm on Saturday, this is already the furthest they have been in the competition.

Ten Doeschate handed over the white-ball reins for this season to Simon Harmer, the former South Africa Test offspinner who has played such a vital role in Essex’s Championship push. Harmer has overseen the return to Finals Day contention, with a largely similar squad to previous seasons – aggressive opener Cameron Delport the one significant addition.

It took a while to find the right balance for the team, with Varun Chopra eventually omitted and Tom Westley moving up to open alongside Delport. There have also been new roles for ten Doeschate and his old mucker, fellow Finals Day veteran Ravi Bopara, further down the order. But they seem to have found a formula at the right time.

“What’s most exciting is we’ve turned things around with pretty much the same personnel,” ten Doeschate tells ESPNcricinfo. “The last few years has been a bit of a struggle, Harmy coming in has shaken things up. The fact we haven’t had two overseas for a lot of the games – the way the young guys have stepped into their roles.

“He’s created a belief. He’s gone with the approach, ‘This is what we’ve got, we’ve got to make it work’. I think he’s instilled a lot of confidence, particularly in the young guys. He wants the batters all to be positive, the change we’ve made a) in the batting order and b) personnel, I think that’s made a big difference.”

Essex will have to cope without their overseas players at Edgbaston on Saturday, with Adam Zampa and Mohammad Amir both unavailable (Amir missed almost half of the group stage with visa issues anyway). Netherlands seamer Shane Snater and young left-arm spinner Aron Nijjar have been added to the squad, and aside from ten Doeschate, Bopara and Adam Wheater, who went to Finals Day on more than one occasion with Hampshire, most of those on the bus up to Birmingham will be experiencing the occasion for the first time.

“The fact that most of the guys haven’t been to it is probably a good thing, we’ll go there tomorrow and it won’t play on too many peoples’ minds,” ten Doeschate said. “The experience some of us do have, particularly myself and Rav, we’ve played a lot of games and hopefully we can spread that through the squad and prepare the guys for tomorrow. The fact it’s been a season for turning things around, and we’ve done it against the odds. The position we were in with four games to go, we were dead and buried, virtually no way we could make it. That’s a nice way to go into a final.”

It was ten Doeschate and Bopara who were in the middle together as Essex sealed a quarter-final win over North Group winners Lancashire a fortnight ago. With 344 and 329 T20 appearances respectively, as well as experience in the IPL and beyond, they will hope to provide the big-match savvy as Essex seek that first semi-final success.

“There are very few games at Essex I’ve played without Ravi in the team. So it’s always special to go out to bat with him. We are getting on, so we keep saying ‘One more time, one more time’. But the form he’s been in, and his approach to the game in the last six weeks – we don’t like to single people out, but he’s played a massive part in getting us to this stage of the competition.”

As to whether Essex are overdue a limited-overs title, having last won the FP Trophy in 2008, ten Doeschate points out how difficult it is to combine success across the formats. Essex, of course, won the Championship in 2017, having been promoted the year before, and have set their store by red ball in recent years. Of the three other teams at Finals Day, Nottinghamshire have already been relegated in the Championship, while Worcestershire and Derbyshire are in the bottom four of the second tier.

“There’s not many teams who do well in both formats,” he said. “This year’s a prime example. There’s a lot of merit in saying it’s hard to win both. But it’s great that we have an opportunity to go there and win a cup that’s long overdue.”

With a rare double in prospect, can Essex be the exception that proves the rule? Ten Doeschate smiles and shakes his head. He will be 40 next year and hopes to still be playing for the club he joined in 2003 – whatever happens over the next week won’t change his view.

“To dwell on results isn’t healthy. I think the club can be immensely proud of what the team’s done this year. The change in fortunes in white ball is something to be very proud of – and again the way we’ve competed in red ball. I’m not too focused on where we end up. It’s five days – I’m not going to let five days define whether I think it’s been a good season or not a good season. I think it’s been a great season, and the chance to win two cups is fantastic. Of course we want to give it a crack.”



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Recent Match Report – United Arab Emirates vs Oman, ICC Men’s T20 World Cup Qualifier, 4th Match, Group B

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Oman 109 for 3 (llyas 45*) beat UAE 108 for 9 (Butt 3-16, Khan 3-23) by seven wickets

The absence of three banned players in the wake of an ICC ACU investigation into match-fixing left UAE badly exposed on the opening night of the T20 World Cup Qualifier on home soil as Oman ran roughshod over the depleted hosts, storming to victory by seven wickets.

Oman demonstrated early that they would show little mercy to their shorthanded gulf rivals with some superb fielding leading to three wickets in the Powerplay. The sequence included a direct hit from mid-on by Khurram Nawaz but was highlighted by a brilliant diving catch from Aqib Ilyas at backward point off the fifth ball of the match to dismiss Ashfaq Ahmed and give Bilal Khan the first of his three wickets.

The normally fluent Rameez Shahzad and Rohan Mustafa struggled to pace their innings in the middle overs without the suspended Shaiman Anwar as a buffer, each scoring below a run a ball before they fell after the halfway stage. Shahzad was bowled missing a slog sweep to Khawar Ali’s legspin before Mustafa lofted Khan to Aamir Kaleem at long-on.

UAE wheezed their way past 100 before stuttering badly in the final two overs as Khan and Fayyaz Butt excelled at the death. Butt took three wickets in four balls in the 19th with clever use of the slower bouncer. Khan then had Junaid Siddique caught behind in the final over on what may have been a far more contentious decision – replays indicated it was a bump ball but third umpire referrals are not in place for this tournament – had the scoreline been remotely tighter.

The chase became even more comfortable for Oman thanks to some very sloppy fielding by UAE, in contrast to the visitors. Medium pacer Siddique bounced out Khawar for a five-ball duck to start the reply and should have had Jatinder Singh at deep square leg for 2 in the third over, but Waheed Ahmed put down a diving effort coming in from the rope and Jatinder went on to make 16, not much but enough in a low-scoring match.

A much clumsier effort was put down by Ashfaq Ahmed at slip in the 9th over. Kaleem was fresh at the crease after Jatinder’s run out by Waheed from deep cover and captain Ahmed Raza supported Mustafa’s offspin with a slip in the form of Ashfaq. But he still had his hands on his knees when Kaleem, on 2, edged one that went in between his legs at knee height and carried on for a boundary.

Kaleem made 27 off 19 before he slogged to long-on in the 14th off Raza but by that stage Oman needed just 28 off 39 balls to reach the target. An uncharacteristically sedate Ilyas patiently knocked singles and twos in tandem with captain Zeeshan Maqsood in an unbroken fourth-wicket stand to get Oman across the line with 10 balls to spare as Maqsood ended the match pulling a six off Siddique over square leg.





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‘I want to put things right’ – Nottinghamshire head coach Peter Moores

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A desire to ‘put things right’ will drive Peter Moores when he embarks on a fresh two-year contract as Nottinghamshire’s head coach next season.

Moores, who took Notts to the semi-finals of the Royal London One Day Cup and the Vitality Blast, acknowledged that the summer of 2019 had been one of his most difficult after the club were relegated to Division Two of the Championship, having barely scraped together half the points total of seventh-placed Warwickshire in the eight-team first division.

“I want to put things right,” said Moores. “We’re in a tough place at the moment, but I’m passionate about this club and I want to see us through this next period.

“We played some very good white-ball cricket in 2019 and we’re determined to remain one of the country’s most consistent forces in those formats. But it hurts me every day that we’ve been nowhere near the required standard with our red-ball cricket.

“We have to accept that the Second Division is the place we deserve to be based on the way we’ve played. We’ve now got to work harder than ever and fight to get back to where we want to be.”

Also read: From Duncan Fletcher to Trevor Bayliss: how Chris Silverwood’s predecessors shaped up

Nottinghamshire failed to win any of their 14 Championship matches, amassing 10 defeats and four draws for their 67 points, compared to Warwickshire’s three wins, six losses and five draws for 131 points.

The Outlaws lost their Blast semi-final to Worcestershire Rapids in extraordinary circumstances. Needing 11 to win with eight wickets in hand, Notts lost three batsmen in the penultimate over and, with only six runs required off the final over, they managed just five. Notts were also thumped by 115 runs in the Royal London Cup semi-finals by Somerset, who set them a lofty target of 338 runs to win.

Moores, who coached England from 2007-09 and 2014-15, joined Nottinghamshire in 2015 as a consultant before taking on the new head coach role at the end of the following year. He won the white-ball double with the Outlaws in 2017 as well as promotion to Division One of the County Championship.

His tenure with Notts has coincided with a transitional period in which Michael Lumb, Chris Read and Brendan Taylor headed a list of experienced player departures, while Alex Hales and Harry Gurney opted to sign white-ball only deals.

Nottinghamshire Director of Cricket Mick Newell described Moores as one of the most dedicated and respected coaches in the game.

“He’s committed to Notts and he’s valued very highly by our players,” Newell said. “This year has been tough for everyone involved with the club. However, we all believe the squad we have assembled has the talent and potential to get us back to where we need to be.”



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Recent Match Report – Kenya vs Netherlands, ICC Men’s T20 World Cup Qualifier, 3rd Match, Group A

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Netherlands 166 for 4 (O’Dowd 53, Cooper 36, Obuya 2-16) beat Kenya 136 for 8 (Obuya 63, van Meekeren 3-27, Klaassen 2-23) by 30 runs

Unlike the other reigning co-champs Scotland, the other joint-title holders from the 2015 T20 World Cup Qualifier managed to avoid the upset bug as Max O’Dowd‘s first innings half-century was more than enough behind a quality team bowling effort as Netherlands coasted past Kenya in a 30-run win.

Kenya paid for sloppy fielding in the Powerplay as O’Dowd was dropped on 2 at mid-on before later going on to make his fifty while his opening partner Tobias Visee survived two chances on 1 and 12. It allowed the pair to add a brisk 36 off 21 balls for the first wicket before Visee fell to a yorker from Nelson Odhiambo in the fourth.

O’Dowd and Ben Cooper then teamed for a 77-run second-wicket stand as Kenya’s bowling unit struggled to apply any sort of pressure. Though boundaries were few, singles were plenty during the partnership. O’Dowd (bowled), Cooper (caught extra cover) and Ryan ten Doeschate (slog to deep midwicket) all fell in the space of 13 runs as Kenya fought back late through Collins Obuya‘s spin. But Pieter Seelaar’s late cameo along with Roelof van der Merwe added 40 off the last 25 balls to take the Dutch out of any danger.

Paul van Meekeren sparked the Dutch in the field, first with a sharp catch on a skier to claim Dhiren Gondaria in the fifth for Timm van der Gugten’s only wicket of the day. Van Meekeren then bowled Alex Obanda to start the sixth with a full and straight delivery, the first of his three wickets in the match. Jasraj Kundi was bowled flicking across the line to van der Merwe to make it 39 for 3 before a methodical 70-run stand between Rakep Patel and Obuya brought respectability back to Kenya’s innings.

However, they were never seriously in striking distance, needing more than 10 an over for the last 12 overs. Rakep holed out to long-on for van Meekeren’s second wicket before Fred Klaassen produced a double-strike in the 18th with some intelligent death bowling. He ran back 25 yards changing direction in his follow-through to claim a skier off Obuya before a cutter produced another thick edge to short third man two balls later to dismiss Shem Ngoche. Van Meekeren clean bowled Lucas Oluoch in the final over to finish off his haul for the day while Brandon Glover also contributed an economical spell of 1 for 19.



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