May 11, 2013

Old friends and new boost Sussex

Dwayne Smith's return for the T20 competition is perhaps a reflection on how well Chris Jordan has settled in

When an old friend comes to visit at my stage of life, it normally prompts a night out, when we try to "party" like it's 1999. As reality sets in that we can't really hack it anymore, we settle instead for some good food (cheap curry) and fine wine (Jacob's Creek). One last stab at a Jäger Bomb follows, before an overly affectionate embrace and a precarious walk home, struggling to stay on the pavement. Pretty pitiful, I'm sure you'll agree.

Dwayne Smith's return to Sussex will be somewhat classier than that, I expect, and hopefully he can help us to a night to remember at Edgbaston on August 17 - Twenty20 Finals Day.

It's a twist of fate that he's coming back to Hove at all this summer. Not so long ago, Sussex announced the signing of Australia seamer John Hastings as our second overseas player, alongside Scott Styris. With ink still wet on the deal, news came through that Hastings had injured his ankle and required surgery, ruling him out of the move. A dent in our quest to win the Twenty20 trophy this summer, we thought.

It's been all quiet on that front until now when, after a scorching hot bank holiday, our excitement reached boiling-point with the news that Smith had signed in Hastings place. At least that's one less Aussie in county cricket this season anyway...

If your mouth is not already salivating at the thought of Smith's return, let me arouse your retinas further with our potential T20 batting line-up: Luke Wright, Chris Nash, Matt Prior, Smith, Styris, Rory Hamilton-Brown. It's the stuff dreams are made of, isn't it?

Of course, Smith holds a dear place in our hearts following a successful stint at the club between 2008-10, helping us to the Pro40 trophy in his first year at the club. A year later we won both limited-overs competitions and Smith was again pivotal. His 59 from 26 balls in the T20 final against Somerset underlined how destructive he can be for opposition bowlers. He is currently smashing the ball over deep midwicket on a regular basis for the Mumbai Indians in the IPL, and it will be great to see him back at Hove this summer.

Although delighted by Smith's return, I was a trifle concerned that we didn't add a specialist bowler to the squad in Hastings place. Smith does bowl some useful medium pace but he's no Hastings, who would have added a great deal of nous to our attack.

What I think Smith's signing does do, however, is underline the superb job Chris Jordan has done for us since his move from Surrey. Jordan has taken 17 wickets in three Championship matches already, and is bowling with genuine pace, batsmen not knowing whether to play forward or stay on the back foot to him. He's bowling consistent lines and lengths, something he was accused of not doing at Surrey.

Whether Mark Robinson has been surprised by how quickly Jordan has settled in this season, only he knows, but not expecting too much of him too quickly may explain why Hastings was signed in the first place. The fact that Hastings has now been replaced by a genuine batsman in Smith perhaps underlines what a key bowler Jordan has become to us, just a month into the new season.

Four of Jordan's Championship wickets came against Warwickshire last week, on what was a pretty docile pitch at Hove. It was no surprise that the match ended in a draw, particularly with the final day wiped out by rain, and in truth the bowlers struggled to get much out of what was a slow, flat surface. Steve Magoffin was unavailable for that game, due to injury, and his quality was missed. With little assistance coming from the pitch however, against quality batsman like Varun Chopra, Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott, it was always going to be a struggle to bowl out Warwickshire twice in four days.

Any side boasting those three is going to be hard to beat but with five of their first team missing, including captain Jim Troughton and opening bowler Keith Barker, there was an opportunity to have a go at the champions, so it was disappointing we couldn't quite put them under more pressure.

As mentioned in previous blogs, we have a strong Championship XI this year, one that I feel can challenge in Division One. And when I say challenge, I don't mean fourth or fifth, I mean genuine title challengers.

With Ed Joyce, Michael Yardy and Chris Nash in your side, you're always going to score runs, whilst the form of young Luke Wells and Ben Brown has been hugely encouraging as well. Wells in particular, who scored 208 at The Oval a few weeks ago and 96 against Warwickshire, is showing a rugged temperament ideally suited to four-day cricket. We still have Wright to return from IPL duty as well.

If our first-choice bowling attack of Magoffin, James Anyon, Jordan and Monty Panesar can stay fit and available, and with Yardy, Wright and Nash more than capable back-up bowlers, there's enough ammo there with which to take 20 wickets a game and win Championship matches.

We have a first XI capable of beating any side in the division on our day, with the right intent and a bit of help in the track there's no reason why we can't rack up a few victories. Then we can start looking forward to the crash, bang, wallop of Twenty20, and the return of our old friend, Dwayne Smith.

Tom Huelin also writes for a county cricket website, Deep Extra Cover, and describes himself as a left-arm spinner of no repute. He tweets here