June 28, 2013

Sussex's intoxicating start leaves a thirst

Sussex remain unbeaten in the Championship but since their destruction of Somerset at Horsham their title challenge has lost a little impetus

Championship-winning sides often have spells in a season when they play about as fluently as the average Englishman ordering a glass of beer in an Italian piazza.

It certainly felt like we were drunk, watching Steve Magoffin take 12 Somerset wickets for just 31 runs in mid-May - the cheapest Championship 10-for in over half a century. Somerset's appearance at the Horsham festival of cricket was brief; the game over before tea on day two.

Since that innings victory however, our title charge has slowed to something of a slow, thirsty walk through the countryside, with four consecutive draws taking us through to the Twenty20 break in second place, eight points behind leaders Yorkshire.

The draw at Notts was at least a return to a more competitive brand of cricket, Ed Joyce's double hundred and Chris Jordan's latest five-for threatening for a brief period on the third day to put Sussex in with a shout of victory.

The draw at Lord's at the start of June was quite different, with Sussex following on, 277 runs adrift of Middlesex with over a day and a half to play. The match and our unbeaten start to the season looked like going mammary-skywards, before Luke Wright's second innings score of 187 - a career best in first-class cricket - saved us from certain defeat.

Draws don't win Championships of course, and if your glass is perennially half-empty, you might argue that Middlesex looked a class above Sussex at Lord's, a worrying disparity against one of our main rivals this season. If your tankard is veritably overflowing with the finest Greene King on offer however, you will probably feel that a game was saved at Lord's, rather than one lost.

Sussex remain undefeated after nine Championship games, let's not forget. We may not be top, but we're not far off.

And for the most part, the squad is brimming with players in form; Wright for one. As well as that innings at Lord's, first-class scores of 77 and 41 have proved what a fine batsman he is in the longest form. His abilities in one day cricket are well known of course, but a 54-ball hundred against Kent in the YB40 was an exhibition of Wright at his powerful best, taking on bowlers and scattering fielders like a bowling ball smashing through a set of skittles.

Wright's efforts have certainly given the middle order a boost, as has the return to form of Rory Hamilton-Brown, who registered his first hundred of the season at Trent Bridge. I spoke before the season about the need to give RHB time to settle back into life on the south coast after the tragic events of last year, and that ton will have done his confidence the world of good. He recently had a spell playing Twenty20 cricket with the second XI. Hopefully that has helped and the score in Nottingham will be the first of many important contributions in the second half of the season.

Late June brings the limited overs formats to the fore. The Sharks will be strongly fancied in this year's Twenty20 competition, and with a batting line-up of Nash, Wright, Joyce, Smith, Styris and Hamilton-Brown, it's easy to see why. There are exciting Friday night encounters against holders Hampshire home and away to look forward to, clashes that could be the most exciting of the whole competition.

YB40 has been a different story however and it's disappointing to see us crash out of the competition with three games still to play. Trailing group leaders Notts by six points with only three games remaining, Sussex are more out than a pair of bootcut jeans. I can only surmise that our Championship form had an adverse effect on the 40-over side, especially with the first-class bowlers rested in the format. Disappointing nonetheless.

One thing I could never get disappointed about, however, is Chris Jordan's form this year. I've mentioned CJ in every blog so far, and I'm not about to stop now. In a similar vein to Peter Miller's near-unhealthy obsession with Glamorgan's Mike Reed, I have developed a bit of a bromance towards Jordan and his lightning-quick bowling - not to mention some lusty batting - over the course of the season. Miller even boasts Reed as one of his followers on Twitter. Come on, Chris, get a Twitter account and get following me … please!

With Jordan in this form it's a wonder why Chris Adams ever let him leave Surrey. Adams was criticised during his time at the Oval for some of the players he recruited, but letting Jordan go must rank as one of his biggest errors of judgement. Adams' departure from the Oval was sad if unsurprising, I just hope the Surrey executives don't come knocking for our coach, Mark Robinson, as his long-term replacement.

Surrey may be a Test ground county, but Sussex could be county champions in three months' time. I'm hopeful Robbo will stay. He should - it's shaping up to be quite a season for Good Old Sussex by the Sea.

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