August 22, 2013

Panesar problems cloud Sussex outlook

Sussex have dealt well with the unsavoury Monty Panesar episode and will now hope to refocus on what has been a good season

Writing about Sussex this summer has been a pleasure. It's been a good season. Our Championship form has been good, on the whole, even if our limited-overs cricket has faltered. Steve Magoffin's 12 for 31 against Somerset at Horsham sticks in the mind, as does pretty much everything Chris Jordan has done - particularly in the first half of the campaign. Lukes Wells and Wright have been excellent, whilst Ed Joyce has been just about the best batsman to watch across the country. It's also been good to see youngsters like Matt Machan and Lewis Hatchett get opportunities this year - tremendous talents both.

And yet for all the highs, the story of Monty Panesar urinating on some nightclub bouncers is what might linger in the mind, should the Championship ultimately elude us.

Reports of Panesar's indiscretion have been pretty vivid over the past week or so but with the club releasing the former Northants man from the final two years of his contract this week - and more immediately allowing him to join Essex for the remainder of this season - there are some serious points to consider as we move into the business end of the Championship season.

The first is how will events of the few weeks affect Sussex in their final four Championship matches? Panesar is an excellent spinner that, with pitches more conducive to spin at this stage of the summer, would have been important in the Championship run-in. That he is now assisting Essex in their promotion push is more than a little frustrating.

That's not to say I don't agree with the club's stance or decision on the matter. I think Mark Robinson and Zac Toumazi, the coach and chief executive, have handled a very difficult situation admirably. They have kept a dignified silence whilst conducting an internal investigation, and haven't resorted to brash statements condemning the player's actions in the press. This unsavoury episode has been dealt with in-house and, ultimately, in the right way as far as the club and Panesar are concerned.

That we have also allowed him to play on loan in Division Two, giving him the chance to try and salvage a place on the plane for England's Ashes trip to Australia later in the year, is utterly decent - Sussex were under no obligation to do that.

Without Panesar, Will Beer will come in to the side, and the young leggie deserves his chance. His only first-class match this season came against Middlesex, when Panesar missed out due to a shoulder injury. Beer did well, taking 3 for 89 at Lord's, and I have no doubt he'll do a job for us in our remaining four matches.

I am sure the players will miss Panesar, but they are professional enough not to let his departure derail their Championship charge. Robinson wouldn't allow it in any case.

What will have annoyed Robinson, however, will have been the presence of Rory Hamilton-Brown on that night out with Panesar. RHB was seen grappling with bouncers on footage filmed by astonished onlookers, an unbelievable lack of self-awareness especially considering the circumstances that led to him returning to Sussex. RHB has played in both YB40 matches since that night at the start of August, so I hope it was a one-off and Hamilton-Brown keeps his head down for the rest of the season.

Sussex have four very difficult Championship matches coming up between now and the end of the season, especially after that shock (shocking) defeat to Derbyshire last time out. It gave the Falcons a first win of the season, leaving us in second place having played a game more than our closest rivals. With third-placed Middlesex taking on Karl Krikken's men during our week off, I only hope Derbyshire continue their winning ways.

Regardless of what may have been a difficult few weeks for the club, we still have a hugely exciting climax to the Championship season to look forward to. Wright, with a career-best List A score of 143 not out whilst skippering England Lions against Bangladesh A this week, is in outstanding form, whilst hundreds from Wells (110 v Derbyshire) and Ed Joyce (121* v Notts) are also playing extremely well. If Chris Jordan can get in the wickets again, we could still mount a serious challenge.

When our next opponents Warwickshire came down to Hove at the start of May, the result was a pretty tame draw. Both sides will probably have to win the match that starts on the August 28 to keep their respective challenges alive, so expect a result pitch at Edgbaston. If Sussex can leave Birmingham victorious, we'll be right in the mix.

I wish Monty well after four years at the club, and hope he resolves his problems, both on the field and off it. But now let's get back to the cricket; we've a Championship to 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