Ronnie Irahi explains why Essex has been the most successful county team in recent years
PUBLISHED: 10:30 21 May 2020
Ronnie Irani comes over all Frank Sinatra when he explains the philosophy that has made Essex the most successful county team of recent times.
“Reach for the moon and if you fall short you end up with the stars,” could have been the embryonic lyrics out of which sprang Fly Me To The Moon.
In other words – Irani’s words – “We are always pushing for success, that’s what you have to do. You’ve just got to keep trying. If you believe, you can achieve. You always have to believe and even if you’re failing you have to keep believing.”
Irani took over as chairman of the club’s cricket advisory committee at the end of the 2015 season on a manifesto to bring back the glory days of the 1980s and early 1990s. Remember, Essex were bumbling along in Division Two of the Specsavers County Championship at the time, no title since 1992, and never having reached T20 Finals Day.
Unlike politicians, Irani delivered on his election pledge: promotion, two Championships and a maiden T20 success have followed in four seasons.
“I just felt we were massively underachieving,” the former Essex captain says before rewriting the words of My Way.
“I said to the board, ‘This is what we need to do, x, y and z, if we want success for the club. If I get it wrong, it’s not going to cost the club any more money, I’ll move on and somebody else can have a go.
“But if you don’t make these changes there is no point bringing me in’. To be fair to our chairman, John Farragher, and the board, they backed me.”
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First up, Chris Silverwood was promoted to head coach, a stepping stone to the England job. “To actually produce and be involved in providing the England head coach was, I guess, the icing on the cake,” Irani said.
“From that, to have your assistant coach step up to go to the level Anthony McGrath has taken us, doing the double last year, that’s gone from the icing on the cake to the cherry on the top.”
“The signing of off-spinner Simon Harmer, the appointment of Ryan ten Doeschate as captain, the rise of home-grown talent like seamer Jamie Porter, have been key.
“There have been so many occasions when games have been turned on their head,” says Irani. “Tom Westley with the bat, Dan Lawrence, Alastair Cook, Browney, and then Simon Harmer and Jamie Porter, but alongside that you’ve got to look at every single player who’s been involved.
“It’s a throwaway line, but it is a team effort, a collective effort, right through the management structure to the junior players. “Look at the way Aron Nijjar came in and played his first-ever game for us last year – T20 semi-final. I mean, wow. Talk about having the bottle to step up and perform.
“Then there’s the young wicketkeeper-batsman, Will Buttleman, who stepped in and did a terrific job for us. Our players love him. We want players with attitude. We’re Essex. We have to punch above our weight because we don’t have the spending power that the big clubs do.
“If we’re not putting silverware in the cabinet, which is our focus, we’ve got to come close with world-class performances. If we lose, we have to have lost to a team who were at the top of their game.”
Of the world-class performances that have taken Essex to the moon and beyond, Irani picks out one by Mohammad Amir against Yorkshire at Scarborough three summers ago to underline his philosophy. “That was a big one on the way to our first title,” he says of the pace bowler’s ten-wicket haul. “The guy is one of the finest cricketers I’ve ever seen. I played with Wasim Akram at Lancashire and this guy is right up there with the best, no doubt about it, great guy, fabulous cricketer. He’s always welcome at Essex, whatever happens to him and his cricket.”
Irani, now 48, 13 years retired but still bullish, would relish playing in the present side. How would he fit into the 2020 team? “Put it this way, it’s not about who misses out – ten others get the opportunity to play with me!”
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