ANTHONY McGrath admits that preparations for the new season have taken a different turn from previous years.

The Essex head coach, who took over the role in 2018, steered the county to a unique double success in 2019 when they won the County Championship and T20 Blast and then followed up the red ball success with another title when they lifted the Bob Willis Trophy, a replacement for the County Championship, last year.

Now he and Essex are about to embark on the quest to repeat their successes in a revamped County Championship competition.

“It’s been really different this time obviously because of Covid-19 protocols but every other county is in the same boat,” McGrath explained.

“Normally we go a trip to Abu Dhabi to prepare for the start of the season in April but, like everyone else, the guys have had to follow the Covid rules.

“We managed to come back in early February to start our build up to the season working in the indoor school.

"Our ground staff have performed miracles to allow us to get outside and practise and we’ve been able to play friendlies against Lancashire and Kent to get in some competitive action.”

Essex will again have the services of ace spin bowler Simon Harmer although, due to Brexit, the South African now plays as an overseas player rather than under a Kolpak registration.

With the counties permitted to play two overseas players in the red-ball game, he is joined by another familiar face, that of Australian pace bowler Peter Siddle.

“It will be great to have ‘Harmy’ once again, we knew that he might have to swop status from Kolpak to overseas if Brexit did go ahead but it was a no-brainer to have him back as an overseas player,” McGrath enthused.

“He’s been phenomenal for us and hopefully, he’ll be with us for a lot more years still.

“It will also be terrific to have Peter Siddle back with us. We know what he can do and he’s a terrific influence around the players. He couldn’t join us last year because of Covid restrictions but he’s very much looking forward to joining up with the team and he will be with us for a full season.”

Apart from the proven squad of experienced players, Yorkshireman McGrath is welcoming the challenge for team places from younger and emerging players.

“It’s good to have them putting pressure on others for their places," said McGrath.

"We wanted to keep the squad together and we know we've got a good mix of youth and experience.

"The success we’ve had in the last few years has been based on younger guys having a breakthrough year every year, if not one of them then two or three.

"We saw that last year even in the short season and I’m expecting some of them to really push on now and challenge the more experienced players to get a place in the competitions that we have ahead of us.”

“There is a bit more of a familiar pattern as far as the number of games goes (14) with three seeded conferences.

"It’s a different format but whatever the format is, we just follow the rules and play to the best of our ability.

“The lads will be doing their best to ensure we can continue our run of successes.”

The County Championship campaign commences on Thursday 8th April when Worcestershire open the season at The Cloudfm County Ground.

Due to Covid-19 protocols, the match will be staged behind closed doors but supporters will be able to follow the action via the club’s live stream.