WHEN Ryan ten Doeschate turned Jade Dernbach to the boundary on the last day of the last Specsavers County Championship game of last season, it not only inflicted Surrey’s first defeat of a coruscating campaign but struck an important psychological blow for Essex.

Ten Doeschate and his team had to stand around post-match and watch Surrey captain Rory Burns collect the trophy they themselves had paraded around Chelmsford 12 months before. But the one-wicket victory in the most astonishing, topsy-turvy match of the season allowed them an inner satisfaction as they applauded the new champions.

As Essex prepare for today’s opening game of this season against Hampshire at Southampton, ten Doeschate recalled that late September afternoon at the Oval and said: “The fact they were unbeaten, yes, we wanted to beat them.

"And for them to come back from the position they were in (410 runs behind on first innings) would have been a massive boost for them.

“Looking forward, they are going to be the marker again this season, the front runners – but we know we have enough to beat them.

"To get over the line in that game stands us in good stead for this season.”

Looking back at 2018, ten Doeschate admitted: “Last season we finished third and that might have been a bit flattering.

"We finished really strongly but at the midway point we weren’t really in it.

"We didn’t play like title contenders – and that is the challenge for this season.

“We’re a very talented group but also a very ambitious group.

"There is a true belief in the team that we can do it again.

"Like any team at the start of the season, ambitions and spirits are high.

"But there is a genuine belief that we have got what it takes to win another Championship.”

The Essex squad for red-ball cricket has a familiar look to it, boosted by Sir Alastair Cook’s commitment to play the entire season after retiring from international duty.

What strengthening has been made has primarily been for the Vitality T20 Blast, in which they won just two games last season and finished ten points adrift of qualifying for the knockout stages.

Star overseas bowlers Mohammad Amir and Adam Zampa return for encores and the big-hitting Cameron Belfort arrives to bolster the top of the order.

Ten Doeschate holds his hands up for last season’s T20 debacle.

He said: “I think a lot of the blame can be laid at my feet.

"I think the progress we made in the red-ball stuff subconsciously we let it slip away from white-ball cricket and, frankly, last year was a shambles.

"The work we put out there was not what we’re about as a team.

"There has been a big push throughout the winter to improve our white-ball skills.

"We want to be much better in white-ball cricket this season.”

To that end, ten Doeschate has relinquished the captaincy of the T20 team to Simon Harmer in a significant nod to the future.

Tendo turns 39 at the end of June and despite belieing his age out in the field, recognises the fading of the light.

He said: “Honestly speaking, I feel as fresh and as motivated as I’ve ever felt.

"The captaincy is a big thing for me.

"I take a lot of pride in leading this group of players.

"We’ve made great progress as a club in the last three or four years.

"But I am acutely aware that my time is coming to an end and I want to make sure I get it (retirement) right.

“I had a long chat with Goochy (Essex legend Graham Gooch) at the press day and he gave me a few pointers.

"There are three very exciting young batters coming through at the moment in Feroze Khushi, Rishi Patel and young Michael Pepper, so that comes into the equation as well.

"But ultimately it is performances coupled with my leadership at the club that will decide.

"When I feel someone else can add value, that will be a good time to step down.

"It could be this summer.

"Hopefully it’s not. I want to keep playing, but whatever is best for the team. That is paramount.”