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Future bleak for Sussex at dawn of new era

There was an overriding sense of relief at Hove on the last day of the County Championship season as news filtered through of Kent’s defeat to Durham at Canterbury, thereby ensuring Sussex’s Division One status next season. It was a frustrating season for Sussex as they managed to win two and draw twelve of their sixteen LV County Championship matches.

In many respects, the final match against fellow strugglers Yorkshire epitomised the Sussex season and displayed why many are concerned for the coming seasons. After reducing Yorkshire to 84 for 6 at stumps on a rain affected first day, the defending champions bowled toothlessly on the second day to allow Yorkshire to reach 400 for 9 declared with numbers eight (Rashid) and ten (Wainwright) both scoring hundreds. In reply, Sussex were bowled out for 207 after a gritty hundred from opener Chris Nash that ensured the much needed bonus point. Following-on, Sussex ground out another draw on a fourth day that saw Zimbabwean Murray Goodwin make his sixth hundred of the season.

In the absence of veteran leg-spinner Mushtaq Ahmed (who retired earlier this season) Sussex have failed to gain momentum and put together a genuine title challenge. The leading three wicket-takers combined have only amassed two more wickets this season than Mustaq did in the victorious 2006 season, ensuring a plethora of drawn games. Sussex are facing a difficult winter but if they are as astute in signing players as they have been in the past, they could be in a more promising position at the end of next season.The challenge for next season is to recruit a strike bowler that will be available for the majority of the season and make a prolonged contribution. Steve Harmison’s 60 wickets at an average of 22.35 from twelve matches were invaluable in Durham’s maiden Championship victory. Sussex’s leading wicket-taker Jason Lewry (41 wickets at 29.53) is still considering retirement after a series of knee injuries and is unlikely to make a championship-winning contribution.

This season also sees Chris Adams hand over the captaincy to Mike Yardy after a remarkable eleven year stint as skipper. Adams has been the county’s most successful captain, winning three championships in five years between 2003 and 2007. Yardy will have his work cut out to rejuvenate a team that looked jaded and aimless at Hove last week. The atmosphere was best summarised by Matthew Hoggard, who, when fielding at mid-on and with Sussex batting the Tykes out of the game, called for the batsmen to “give the members something to cheer about”. They didn’t and the crowd had to endure an over of Tim Bresnan’s less than aesthetic off-spin before the game was drawn.

Sussex’s success has been based on key players excelling in key games towards the end of the season, such as when the Sharks clinched that Pro40 Division One title this year thanks to Murray Goodwin’s unbeaten 87 in the final game. Yardy must now extract more from the team as a whole, especially the players who have been less prominent in the successes of the recent past. Chris Nash looks to have secured his place at the top of the order but Yardy himself has looked vulnerable as a makeshift opener this year. Carl Hopkinson, Ollie Rayner and Luke Wright must be more prolific in the longer form of the game, especially when Goodwin’s contract expires at the end of next season. Matt Prior’s probable absence due to international duty will also add pressure to the less renowned middle-order and if it fails to fire, Sussex may well face another relegation battle next September.

Matt Freeman is a avid follower of test and county cricket and opens the batting for the Sussex firsts cricket team. Cricket training is from 4-6 on Saturdays at the bottom of the sports centre and all students are welcome.

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