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July 23, 2009
Luke Wright was a last minute member of the England squad that celebrated their historic victory over Australia at Lord's after being summoned for final-day twelfth-man duties. Although he didn't have the chance to perform his Gary Pratt (or Bilal Shafayat) moment, Wright still spent time on the field during the closing stages then hit the town with Kevin Pietersen.
On Saturday, Wright returns to Lord's and this time he will have a far more pivotal role to play as one of the key members in the Sussex team for the Friends Provident Trophy final against Hampshire. In three Tests time, there will be a vacancy in the England side for an allrounder, but despite being called up to supplement the Test squad for a day, Wright is still some way down the pecking order for five-day honours. However, many a player has caught the selectors' attention with a match-winning display in the showpiece one-day final.
"I always had ambitions for that position in the Test team, not just since Fred [Andrew Flintoff] has announced his retirement after the Ashes," Wright told Cricinfo. "From the moment I first started playing cricket as a kid I've wanted to play Test cricket. I've been working very hard at my game to become more consistent, I've had some good results in the Championship this season, and it's a case of me continuing to perform for Sussex.
"Every time I play for Sussex I want to impress, but obviously on an occasion like this there will be selectors around and all the TV coverage so it's an extra chance to catch their attention. I'm always aiming for higher honours, but this weekend is first and foremost about winning the match for Sussex."
That Sussex have made it this far is an impressive achievement after the winter of change that went on at Hove after last season. They lost their figure-head captain, Chris Adams, and their match-winning adopted son, Mushtaq Ahmed, but the spirit that was instilled hasn't disappeared. Not unexpectedly the Championship has proved a challenge with one win from eight, but their one-day swagger has shown no signs of diminishing.
"All along we thought we would be able to do alright, but I guess in some ways we have overperformed," Wright admitted. "After losing great players like Mushy and Chris it was going to be difficult, but the rest of the guys - and the new ones - have done brilliantly. The belief that Chris instilled in the team has lived on. Mike Yardy [the current captain] was very close to what Chris was doing and has maintained that feeling in the team."
With the loss of key players, Sussex needed new leading figures to stand-up and guide the next generation. Although just 24, Wright was one of those players expected to make a big impression having been part of England's one-day set-up for two years. His 50-over numbers for the current campaign are disappointing (batting average 28, bowling average 62), but in the Championship he is scoring runs at 38 plus taking wickets at 33 and it is those latter statistics Wright wants to build on.
"I've been lucky enough to play for my country this year and when you come back into your county it makes you extra keen to perform and win matches for them," he said. "I do feel as though I have been able to stand-up, but it's not just been one or two players, the whole team has been super."
One of the most noticeable aspects of Wright's development has been his pace. He showed glimpses during the World Twenty20 when he had the speed to trouble top batsmen and in a recently televised Pro40 match was clocked at 90mph.
"I have increased my pace. I worked very hard over the winter, in India when I wasn't playing and then with the Lions in New Zealand," Wright explained. "I worked on my fitness and strength and it has paid off this season. I have felt I've been able to bowler quicker for longer."
Now he wants to put it all together on the big stage and walk away with another one-day medal to go alongside his 2006 success when Sussex beat Lancashire by 15 runs. "It's definitely the pinnacle for a domestic cricketer. I've been lucky enough to be in one before and I can't wait to experience it again," he said. "You don't get too many chances in your career and to play in front of 27-28,000 fans is a special occasion. It doesn't matter whether you are one of the younger or older players."
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