T20: McGrath can't explain mixed Essex form
PUBLISHED: 07:00 24 August 2019
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The mysterious divergence between Essex's rampant red-ball form and their comparatively tame displays with the white ball has Anthony McGrath scratching his head and struggling for answers.
The head coach watched his Essex team retain their position at the top of the Specsavers County Championship with a quite extraordinary win against Kent at Canterbury - "I've never seen anything like it, to be honest," he says - but has been almost permanently perplexed by the up and down nature of the Vitality Blast campaign.
The second miracle of the week - the T20 victory over top-of-the-table Sussex on Thursday night - leaves the Eagles still clinging to the remote hope of qualifying for the latter stages of the competition, but knowing that one false move would be fatal.
The contrast between the two formats could not be more marked and, after Essex's sixth Championship win on the bounce, McGrath said: "There's a real collective winning habit we've got in four-day cricket.
"If you look at the amount of wins we've had since 2017 [25 in 39 Division One games after promotion], it's absolutely ridiculous. You can go through a 20-year career and not win half that number of games.
"I guess the flip point to that is that it's what we're trying to get in white-ball cricket. In white-ball cricket we've seen when we're in a slightly losing position heads drop and we can't wrestle back the initiative. We've got to try and get a bit of that winning mentality back into our white-ball game.
"We've just not had that consistency of performance. We've either been very good with the bat and poor with the ball, or vice versa. I think sometimes we're trying too hard.
"Everyone knows we've been disappointing for a few years, but the amount of hard work we're doing on the practice field has not yet transformed on to the pitch.
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"I don't think we're too far away. That might sound silly because we've been losing, but we've got the players to do it. We just need to put our practices into our performances on the pitch."
Essex return to the scene of their only Championship defeat this season when they head south tomorrow afternoon to face Hampshire in the Blast at the Ageas Bowl. McGrath added: "We'll try and win all three of our remaining games. I think mathematically there is an outside chance we can qualify."
Of the campaign to date, the Yorkshireman known affectionately as 'Mags' added: "Obviously the rain has not helped us with four games called off. But I think of the games we've played we've been very good in two and really, really poor in four.
"I know T20 is a shorter game, and there are lots of variables, and it is tough to get consistency, but we don't play our Championship cricket now until September 10, so we need to try and get some confidence into this side of the game before that."
In contrast to their fluctuating T20 fortunes, Essex are currently basking in one of the more remarkable red-ball victories in their history.
"They looked down and out when they were dismissed 112 runs in arrears of Kent's first innings. However, they somehow managed to write the unlikeliest of Canterbury tales by bowling out the opposition for 40 and winning by three wickets.
"I guess you get one of those days maybe once, twice, in a career if you're lucky," said McGrath. "At lunch [on the third day] it was looking pretty unlikely we were going to get anything from the game. We'll probably see the significance of this win towards the end of the year.
"We've said all along we've just got to do our job. Having that lead at the top, we've just got to win all our games, then it's out of Somerset's hands [the top two meet in the season's final game].
"There's just a real belief: the team feel we can win from any position. And that's a great trait for any team to have. Even when we were 112 behind, the boys genuinely thought we could still win the game."