I had planned on doing a proper preview of the upcoming County Championship and previewing all of the Counties individually, but was left rather emasculated by the quality of writing already available from sources like Deep Extra Cover site and Cricinfo‘s dedicated County supporter’s section One Man & His Dog, alongside some excellent previews by George Dobell. So I’ve ditched those plans as they could not possibly live up to such the bar set by better writers than myself, but being a Sussex fan I thought it simply would not do to not take a look at our chances for the upcoming season.
In a time where all the Counties are exploring new and innovating business ventures to increase income and profits, Sussex are no different. With the new-look County Ground (which from now will be called the BrightonandHoveJobs.com County Ground) showing considerable depreciation already, our new Chief Executive Zac Toumazi is someone who seems to be proactive in seeking new sources of income. Unlike other clubs, Sussex over the years have profited from Spen Cama’s legacy which he bequeathed when he died in 2001. Many would see this as just dumb luck on Sussex’s part but we have been blessed with some fantastic management allowing the club to stay stable through choppy times. Like other clubs though, the opportunity to stage non-cricketing events such as music concerts is an avenue that the club have always embraced. Following a successful Elton John concert in the summer of 2011, Cliff Richard will be playing at the County Ground this year, and added to a tour match against the touring Australians it means that the loss of £375k that was recorded in the last financial year could be a distant memory come this time next year. First Class cricket will be taken around the rest of the County as well. Two LVCC games will be played outside Hove followed by a YB40 clash. Somerset will play at Horsham in May followed by Kent in the YB40. Arundel will see a LVCC game against rivals Surrey followed by a 40 over match against Northants. There are those who say that countries touring England should play tour matches against Ireland and Scotland, and they are right. But the Counties desperately need the money generated by these matches as well. Perhaps this calls for more tour matches? We shall see.
Turning attention to the on-field situation, Sussex have always been competitive in the short forms of the game and could/should once again challenge for honours, despite increased competition from the likes of Surrey and Northamptonshire whom I think will be a dark horse this season. Our first match is against Yorkshire at Headingley and the biggest change to the side that takes the field/pads up on the 10th of April will be the absence of Murray Goodwin who has left the club and will seek a new adventure with Glamorgan. Although his batting form had been steadily declining over the last couple of years, Sussex owes a lot of their success in the past decade to him. Ever dependable and ever present, his contribution was as invaluable as Chris Adams’ captaincy and Mushtaq Ahmed’s wizardry. The highlight being his triple century at Hove against Leicestershire in 2003 which won us the then Frizzell County Championship for the first time. Another fond memory I will always of him that has perhaps been overshadowed by all his other great innings is the Pro40 trophy win against Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge in 2008 where Sussex were on the brink until his unbeaten 84 runs off 64 balls whilst batting with Mohammad Sami at the other end (32* off 25) saw us home with 2 wickets to spare with a stunning six off the last ball. It really was an inspired innings by a colossus of a man who will be sorely missed at Hove and everyone connected with the club will be looking with interest as to how his Glamorgan side do this season.
Taking Muzza’s place in the batting line-up will be Rory Hamilton-Brown, who after having been poached from Surrey went back to them after 2 successful seasons with Sussex. Alongside Dwayne Smith he was instrumental in Sussex’s T20 win in 2009, beating Somerset in the final. I was extremely disappointed when he went to Surrey; not so much in him chasing the captaincy at such a young age, but more at Chris Adams for essentially ‘tapping him up’. To be fair to RHB he did alright at the Oval as captain before everything derailed following Tom Maynard’s death. Sussex have form in rehabilitating ‘broken’ cricketers. Ed Joyce, Monty Panesar and James Anyon have had their careers reinvigorated by coming to the south coast and perhaps Rory will find whatever it is he is looking for coming back to Hove.
Another player making a welcome return to Sussex is Steve Magoffin. He averages exactly 20 in FC cricket and showed this with an average of 20.05 last year, taking 57 wickets including 7-34 on debut. One of the signing of the season, it remains to be seen whether he will have the same impact this year but anything near what he achieved in 2012 will be good enough for the 33 year old Queenslander. If Magoffin doesn’t hit form, Sussex are building an impressive pace battery around him. James Anyon’s 42 wickets at 39.19 was an excellent return after an injury-hit year the year before and was backed up by Amjad Khan who only played 7 matches but took 22 wickets at 23.72. Chris Liddle was instrumental in limited overs cricket for Sussex last season, all of which earned him a contract with the Dhaka Gladiators in the Bangladesh Premier League which they duly won. It remains to be seen how much LVCC cricket he will play this year. Likewise Lewis Hatchett who is another left-arm pace-man who, all things considered, appears to be a Jason Lewry-prototype. At 23 years of age, this could turn out to be his big season to really make it in the County Championship.
Two additions to the bowling department are Chris Jordan from Surrey, who like James Anyon when he signed is looking for a fresh start in his career. Jordan’s all-round ability will be a massive boost in the limited overs matches as well as the LVCC. Sussex haven’t signed any front-line batsmen to replace Andrew Hodd’s batting which has now gone to Yorkshire, and so will look to Jordan and Matt Machan to fill in. Sussex have also given a one-year contract to Andrew Miller after the ex-Warwickshire bowler did well for the club in pre-season. Naved Arif did his part last year but was released alongside Will Adkin whilst One of Miller and/or Jordan will look to take Kirk Wernars’ role in the side after the South Africa returned home to take a break from cricket and pursue the relaxing and chilled-out lifestyle of a fire-fighter.
One South African whom I personally am looking forward to seeing more of is Michael Rippon, He has done well in the 2nds in his short stay with us, and did exceptionally in our T20 run to finals day but with Monty Panesar more than likely to be away with England he might get more cricket in the longer formats, either alongside or in place of Will Beer. Overall Sussex have quite a young and a rather small squad. In the off-season they offered junior professional contracts to 18 year-olds Callum Jackson and Harry Finch. Playing time might be limited for them as they are still in full-time education but could find the odd game here and there, especially Jackson who will provide cover in the wicket-keeping position for Ben Brown.
All in all, I expect more of the same from Sussex this year. It is great to know that we were the most successful side of the last decade, but I can’t help but feel that to carry on that legacy we need to notch up a trophy in this one as well. I do not expect us to have a lot to fear from relegation (although it is hard to tell, given the erratic weather). We were in the race up until the final few weeks last year, and I hope to see us challenge again. In the shorter forms, we should really be aiming to win one of the trophies as the CB40 or the Friends Provident look right up our skill set. I was impressed by Ed Joyce’s quietly intelligent captaincy for the period of time that he had the reigns. His form with the bat was a major plus too, but he will need to keep both aspects of his game up. Mike Yardy looked a bit scratchy in pre-season but you know he will come good at the crunch. Chris Nash will once again be vital in all forms of cricket with his attacking brand of batting and his canny off-break (averages 20.03 in T20 cricket). Scott Styris will return for the T20 campaign and was supposed to line up with John Hastings who has since had to pull out of his County stint through treatment for injury. There are no clues as to who will take up the second soverseas T20 slot if any, but if the funds were there for a big hitting bowling all-rounder like Hastings then I suspect we will see someone take his place. I’d suggest bringing Dwayne Smith back but what do I know? A trophy-less season will not be the end of the world. Following Sussex all these years have been incredible fun even without the trophies. The players always give it their all, and have a good connection with the fans. All of which make Sussex an incredible place to play and watch cricket.