Vitality County Championship 2024: Pundits’ Predictions


With the 2024 season now just around the corner, the Club assembled a trio of county cricket pundits to give their thoughts on how Essex will perform in this season’s County Championship.

Those who contributed are presenter of BBC Radio Essex’s Around the Wicket Victoria Polley, freelance cricket journalist Ciaran McCarthy, and Aaron Viles of The County Cricket Podcast.


First up, how do you think Essex will perform in 2024?

Victoria Polley: Last season Essex fell at the final hurdle chasing Surrey for the County Championship title but to have kept the title alive going into the last couple of games of the season made for an exciting finish to the summer for county cricket fans in general I think.

But Sir Alastair Cook’s retirement and the departure of Dan Lawrence mean there will be changes to the Essex side for this season and it will be interesting to see how the batting line-up copes with those big losses and how the likes of Dean Elgar and Jordan Cox, who has signed from Kent, fit in. I have high hopes.

Ciaran McCarthy: The elephant in the room, or perhaps no longer in the room, is Dan Lawrence, and his departure for Surrey. It’s a significant one for Essex given he hit more than 800 runs last season. That the side has been gutted of his talent and that of legend Alastair Cook suggests this season will perhaps be a slightly worse one than last.

There is still a lot of talent in the squad, though, and Jordan Cox and Dean Elgar’s additions following the departure of Lawrence and Cook were some of the best that could have been made. Essex should still be in the fight for a top-four spot, but replicating last season’s second-placed finish may be difficult.

Aaron Viles: I fully expect Essex to be right back in the mix yet again. Although the batting line-up might be without the presence of legendary opener Alastair Cook and Dan Lawrence, the signings of Dean Elgar and innovative wicketkeeper-batter Jordan Cox should provide the perfect cover in their absence.

Factor in the sheer strength of the seam attack, spearheaded by the potent new ball pairing of Sam Cook and Jamie Porter, as well as the dynamic spin duo of Simon Harmer and Matt Critchley, and Essex really do have all the makings of being a seriously strong title contender once more.

Who do you think will be Essex’s one to watch?

VP: I would like to see more of batter Feroze Khushi this season, in both red and white ball cricket. The 24 year-old was having a great Blast campaign in 2023 until he suffered a hand injury and having been offered a one year contract extension over the winter, I feel like this has to be his breakthrough season. He already has a County Championship century to his name, he just needs to nail down that permanent spot in the side by consistently scoring runs.

CM: Dean Elgar’s had five years away from county cricket, and it’s difficult to suggest he’s not impressed wherever he’s gone – 185 during South Africa’s demolition of India in a Test in December in case in point. Cook’s are big shoes to fill, but the former Protea should be able to do that just fine.

AV: I’ll go with Chelmsford’s very own Sam Cook. ‘Little Chef’ has a tremendously impressive First-Class record and is one of the most complete red ball bowlers in the country right now, combining a majestic mix of textbook in-swingers, looping out-swingers and wily wobble-seam deliveries to great effect.

How about the Eagles’ leading run-scorer and wicket-taker?

VP: I’d back captain Tom Westley, who finished as fourth highest run scorer in the CC last season, to lead by example again and steady the batting ship as it goes through a transitional period but wouldn’t it be great if overseas signing Dean Elgar came straight in and got to work scoring runs?

There’s one thing that hasn’t changed for Essex and that’s the potent bowling attack and I expect Simon Harmer, Sam Cook and Jamie Porter all to be battling away for the leading wicket-taker title both with Essex and in Division One as a whole once more.

CM: With the bat, it’s difficult to look past Tom Westley following on from a 1,130-run season. With the ball, Sam Cook really showed his quality last season, and he could follow on from a good winter in Johannesburg with some more big poles, though it would be crazy to suggest Simon Harmer won’t be up there.

AV: I’m choosing Tom Westley after he finished with a mightily impressive tally that was bettered only by Lancashire’s Josh Bohannon in Division One. Whilst I also believe that Dean Elgar and Matt Critchley will have notable campaigns with the bat, I just couldn’t look past Westley’s consistency and dependability.

As for the leading wicket taker, I’ll have to go with Simon Harmer. Given the additional usage of the Kookaburra ball in 2024, which should see even more emphasis placed on his bowling, as well as his ability to carve through opposition batting line-ups with clinical ease, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Harmer’s name right up towards the top of the Division One wickets column.

Which Essex youngster are you tipping to break through in 2024?

VP: The One Day Cup side was a very young one last season and that showed in results but it will be good to see more of the likes of Noah Thain, Charlie Allison and Luc Benkenstein, who all featured for England Under 19s at the World Cup this winter.

I think they’re all exciting prospects but Noah Thain in particular has all the attributes to go on to be a great Essex all-rounder. He’s already been compared to Graham Napier quite a lot…which I’m sure he’ll get bored with soon! But what potential to have!

CM: After starring in last season’s One Day Cup, if Charlie Allison is given opportunities in first-class cricket, his talent and style suggests he should be able to make the step up and put together as good a run in red-ball cricket as he did in limited overs last time out.

AV: 19-year-old leg spinner Luc Benkenstein is one of the brightest spin-bowling prospects in the entire country, and I expect to see a lot more of him in an Eagles shirt this year after injury ruled him out of a large chunk of the 2023 season. If you’re a fan of phantom-like drift, mystical wrong ‘uns and troublesome top spinners, then you’ll thoroughly enjoy seeing Benkenstein in action; he really has got a tremendously high ceiling.

Who is your player to watch out for from Division One overall?

VP: I watched James Rew play a really classy knock at Chelmsford last summer and there’s so much more to come from him. I’m looking forward to watching Nathan Lyon v Simon Harmer too this season… let the spin battle commence!

CM: It’s hard to think anywhere beyond Alex Lees, after he was the best batter on the county circuit last season, in a Durham side that have a point to prove this season after returning to the heights of Division One.

AV: With an embarrassment of riches to choose from, I’m going to opt for an all-rounder who probably deserves a little bit more recognition, Warwickshire’s Ed Barnard. I expect him to play an even greater role in the Bears’ red ball side than he has done previously, especially with the bat in hand. I have a feeling that this will be a big year for him in all departments of the game.

Finally, who are your tip to be 2024’s county champions?

VP: Looking at the Surrey squad, it does feel like their County Championship title to lose but Essex ran them close last season and despite the changes in the batting line-up, it has often been the bowling that has seen them over the line before.

I think competing in the top three and settling the batting line-up is the priority but this is an ambitious club and they will be gunning for silverware anywhere possible.

CM: Durham have a genuine chance at going all the way given the wealth of talent in their ranks, but Surrey are a juggernaut, and one that will be seriously hard to contain yet again this season.

AV: Considering the presence of five or six teams that have a legitimate shot of winning the division, this really is anyone’s guess. With this sheer amount of choice in mind, I’ll lean with my heart and go with Warwickshire.