Essex players ready to take the club to the next level as they hunt international recognition
"The time I spent with the England squad last summer was probably the best period of my life" - Jamie Porter
Last Updated: 09/04/19 12:35pm
There is an excited hum around Chelmsford as the various Essex age groups and XI gather for their photos ahead of the upcoming season.
As we set up in one of the boxes for a morning of interviews, the younger members of the Disability XI - sat in the adjacent room - enthusiastically guess which players from the first eleven they will be able to peer at through the glass.
They are lucky enough to see former England captain Alastair Cook, fast bowler Jamie Porter, talented young batsman Dan Lawrence and captain Ryan ten Doeschate traipse in - with each preparing for possibly a life-changing season.
'It was the best period of my life'
There is no denying a huge summer awaits English cricket with the World Cup and Ashes on many players' minds as they edge ever closer.
Seamer Porter certainly sees the carrot being dangled, just within touching distance yet far enough away - aware of the competition already ahead of him.
The Essex paceman has been in the company of James Anderson and Stuart Broad for many years, and recalls his time with the England squad last summer fondly, despite not managing to break into the Test side.
"The time I spent with the England squad last summer was probably the best period of my life," Porter told Sky Sports at Essex's media day.
"I've never looked at not getting into the Test side as a disappointment. Being around the guys, the environment, I just want to be a part of it again.
"It was an unbelievable experience and I learned so much from it. Every net session I bowled with Jimmy and Broady in itself was amazing. Obviously, I wanted to play, and the more I didn't the more hungry I got.
"I didn't feel a great deal of disappointment from not making the team because the guys that kept me out are the guys you expect to keep you out. It's just a matter of trying to get back into that set up."
Porter attributes some of the techniques he has honed to Broad, with the England bowler having offered advice on how best to bowl to left-handers after watching the Essex player bowl in the nets during an ECB pace program trip to South Africa.
It helped him become a more consistent bowler, which more than showed in 2017, when he showcased his skills and exuberance as his 75 Division One wickets led Essex to their first County Championship title since 1992.
Porter explains that simply watching the preparation two of England's greatest bowlers go through has been the best way to learn.
"I remember at Trent Bridge last year, Jimmy didn't feel great with his inswinger, which is amazing for him as someone who is so great at it," he recalls.
"He just went to the side and bowled about three overs of inswingers until he felt comfortable with it. Just watching how they prepare and go into every Test match 100 per cent with every one of their skills is something I've taken away."
Despite there being plenty to get carried away about, Porter is acutely aware that succeeding with Essex is his best path to breaking into the England set up this summer.
"It is a tough summer not to look ahead to when you've got an Ashes, and personally I'm targeting into the Ashes squad, but I'm trying to keep it out of my head as much as possible.
"If you look at the guys who are in possession, Jimmy and Broady are nailed on, Woody is bowling the speed of light, and you also have Sam Curran and Chris Woakes - so there is quite a long pecking order. For me, it is just about trying to be consistent this summer and win some games for Essex.
"If I'm doing that and we're winning games, then if I don't get picked in the Ashes squad, I can rest easy knowing that I've done everything I can do, and hopefully keep knocking on that door further down the line."
Age no longer an excuse
As far as Essex producing another great batsman for England goes, 21-year-old Lawrence has been tipped to compete with the success teammate Cook enjoyed with the international side.
He has already played 55 first-class matches, but after scoring three centuries and over 700 runs in 2017, the Essex-born batsman suffered a dip in form last season.
Instead of opting for another winter playing club cricket in Australia, Lawrence chose to train and work out some technical kinks he felt had crept into his play, as he aims to step up his game this season, with a possible England call-up beckoning if he can find the form of two seasons ago.
"It is quite easy to play the 'I'm young, I can get away with it' card," he admitted. "I had some good performances last year, but I want to work on my consistency and turn up week in, week out and put in a performance to help us win.
"I've matured, I've played quite a lot now for my age and I've done really well, but I want to get to the stage where I'm dominating week in, week out, and it is a motivation for me.
"Test cricket is the form of the game that I am desperate to play in. I have thought about playing in it all my career and all my life, and that hasn't changed at all.
"It could be quite easy to get caught up in 'I want to score x amount of runs to become No x in the England side', but I am just focused on scoring runs for Essex, and if anything else comes my way, then of course I'll take it."
Sharing a dressing room with England's leading runscorer has many benefits, especially when you are trying to break into the international side.
Lawrence admits there has been extra motivation within the squad to match the fitness levels of Cook.
"If someone who has retired from international cricket is still running more than everyone else, gymming more, it motivates you to do the same sort of thing," he said.
"Having Cook in the dressing room does massive amounts, having him sitting across just talking about batting and having a wealth of experience, I can just feed into that.
"He has told me talent takes you so far, but then you have to do a lot of other things with it to play Test cricket for England.
"That is being level headed, your fitness, blocking out lots of other extra noise. He's said ultimately it comes down to how many runs you put down on paper, and then people will start looking at you."
"Leadership gives me a lot of satisfaction"
At the other end of spectrum, captain Ten Doeschate is in the twilight of his career and while his passion for playing cricket remains, he is also planning for the next step - for himself and Essex.
The 38-year-old has been looking at the possible succession plan that will follow him when he chooses to retire, balancing his hunger to keep playing with knowing the right time to move on.
As for the younger generation who are pushing for their first international call-ups, Ten Doeschate has been keen to point out their personal goals are interlinked with Essex's.
"Their ambitions are tied in with the clubs," he explained. "If Dan Lawrence is going to play for England this summer, he is going to do very well for us.
"There is not much that needs to said about taking pride and valuing your county; I think we are very lucky as a team that, as a group of guys, the camaraderie is exceptional.
"We're lucky that we don't need to keep telling players to keep their focus on here because they have worked it out, they have been told focus on your county cricket and the rest takes care of itself.
"To a man, I am very lucky these guys are all very ambitious and want Essex to do well."
Read part one of our exclusive interview with newly-knighted Alastair Cook where he discusses a new motivation for playing cricket on Sky Sports' digital platforms on Friday.