July 30, 2013

Sussex enduring wretched white ball summer

Supporters at Hove are chalking up a second limited-overs failure this season and hoping it has no knock-on effects to their Championship campaign

Not everything in life goes to plan. I'm sure when Kate Middleton was a little girl she didn't envisage 300 journalists huddling around the hospital she was in as she gave birth to her first child. Such is life in mad, 21st century Britain.

When the county season started back in early April, many picked Sussex to win at least one of the limited overs trophies on offer. But after a wretched summer of white ball cricket Sussex are rock bottom of the South Group in the Friends Life t20, with only a solitary win to their name. Defeat to unfancied Kent recently was the final nail in a coffin that was already almost completely submerged in the dirt.

It's been a bizarre set of results for a side whose top order reads, well, that's been the problem hasn't it? We just haven't been able to settle on a fixed top order. Luke Wright has missed games with injury, club captain Ed Joyce has been rested, whilst Chris Nash, Scott Styris and Dwayne Smith have all moved up and down the batting order more frequently than Phil Hughes for Australia, without much more success. Smith in particular has struggled, his nine innings yielding 4, 21, 26 not out, 12, 5, 16, 0, 25, 1, at an average of just 13.75.

I mentioned in an earlier blog that we might be a little light on bowling options, after Smith replaced the crocked Australian bowler, John Hastings. Unfortunately those concerns have borne fruit. Chris Jordan, so good in first-class cricket this year, hasn't carried the same threat with white ball in hand, and with Championship duo Steve Magoffin and Jimmy Anyon rested, some of Sussex's younger bowlers have been required. Chris Liddle, taking 11 wickets at 25, has been particularly impressive, but alas it's not been enough to progress beyond the group stages.

I saw our CEO, Zac Toumazi, prowling the Cromwell Road End boundary during one T20 games recently. He was very obliging as I started wittering away to him, although I was clearly distracting him from the important business going on in the middle. Zac seems very passionate and proud about his role at Sussex, living every ball through our brief conversation. Even though the limited overs campaigns haven't gone to plan, Zac said he would be delighted to lead Sussex up to Buckingham Palace as Championship winners later this year, and there's still a very good chance of that happening.

The heavy defeat to Middlesex at Hove was not ideal with the Championship in mind, both because they are title rivals, and because it ended our unbeaten start to the season. Sometimes a side gets the measure of you during a campaign. We've beaten Somerset pretty emphatically home and away this year, while Middlesex have had us by the throat both times we've met them. That we don't have to play them again is a blessed relief.

The one constant in both of those two Middlesex matches was the form of batsman Luke Wright. Wright hit a career best 187 at Lord's helping us to save the match, whilst his 161 at Hove briefly looked like salvaging an unlikely draw on day three. Okay, a very unlikely draw, but it was a fantastic knock nonetheless. Wright's form in first-class cricket has been superb this season, adapting his style superbly from the one-day flair we're used to seeing from him. He may feel he's some way off England's Test side, but a strong end to the season and another good campaign next year, and he won't be a million miles away.

It was also great to see the Aussies at Hove for their customary tour match. The weather was superb and there was some terrific batting on show (yes, even from the Baggy Greens), none more so than James Taylor, who hit an impressive unbeaten 121. To play as fluently as Taylor did against an international attack - albeit one containing more spin than a Labour government - was a superb effort, and if that knock helps his cause for England than credit should go to Sussex coach Mark Robinson for allowing Taylor's appearance to happen.

The middle looked exceptionally dry against Australia, after the stunning weather we've experienced in July. While the dryness is conducive to spin and Monty Panesar, taking three wickets against the Aussies, has shown what he can do on dry, spinning wickets, our seam attack of Anyon, Magoffin and Jordan, could do with a bit of precipitation on the square to give them a bit more assistance off the pitch.

Our Flt20 campaign is over, as is the Yorkshire Bank 40, so it's time to re-focus on our Championship campaign. Sussex have many of the main contenders still to play, with trips to Warwickshire and Durham preceding our last two games at home to Yorkshire and Durham again. Whoever wins the title is going to have played outstandingly well in what has been a hugely competitive campaign this year. May the best team win.

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