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Shortly before lunch on the penultimate Championship day of the summer Mushtaq Ahmed trapped Andy Harris with a ripping googly
September 22, 2006
Twenty six wickets in the last two matches of the season is the sum total of Mushtaq's monumental efforts and he seemed overawed by the occasion. He's not a man who takes adulation easily but he deserves everything than comes his way. Surely the council can't deny him his bus after this performance.
When one man takes 102 wickets it seems strange to say success is a team effort, but Sussex are about more than their Pakistan legspinner. They have a team spirit instilled by Chris Adams, one of the toughest captains on the county circuit, and don't carry anyone in their side. Six of the 11 that played in the final match are products of the youth system, a credit to Mark Robinson and the coaching staff, and the game is healthy at all levels at Hove.
The current Sussex side is a far cry from the team that were the county whipping boys during the late 1990s. The arrival of Adams was the catalyst for the turnaround; when he arrived in 1998 in a much published, big-money (for cricket) switch from Derbyshire he said he wanted to make Sussex the best. It took a while for his dreams to come to fruition, but slowly the pieces of the jigsaw slotted into place.
Their 2003 success was based around scoring huge runs and letting Mushtaq loose on the opposition; their second Championship pennant came from a very similar formula. A middle order of Michael Yardy, Murray Goodwin and Adams is as destructive as any in the country, while the underrated Richard Montgomerie often did the hardwork against the new ball.
Between them the trio of Yardy, Goodwin and Adams amassed 3781 runs and AT a rapid pace. Goodwin could have scored a mountain of runs in international cricket for Zimbabwe but politics meant that wasn't to be and Sussex aren't complaining. He has exhibited a hunger that many young batsmen could learn from.
However, as their dominant display against Nottinghamshire confirmed, the batting talent isn't restricted to the top five. Matt Prior used his England disappointments to spur him on to 934 runs, and his glovework against Mushtaq was ever improving, while Robin Martin-Jenkins chipped in when required.
Then it was over to the bowlers and for the first half of the summer it was a case of if Mushy didn't get you, Rana Naved-ul-Hasan would. The Pakistan duo were irresistible in the opening weeks of the summer and enabled to Sussex to reach the top of the table in May. Although they jostled with Lancashire and Hampshire, they were always right up there.
The Pakistan theme continued when Naved was injured (although he would have joined Pakistan in any case) and Yasir Arafat was a fine replacement with his lower-order hitting and reverse-swing skills. Naved returned at the end of the season, but Sussex invited Arafat to Trent Bridge for the final game to further emphasise the team ethos. A word, too, for Jason Lewry who finished second to Mushtaq with wickets and pounded in throughout the summer.
Sussex didn't avoid the odd hiccup, in a 15-match campaign it is rare not to hit a hurdle or two, and their capitulation against Lancashire at Liverpool raised questions. However, they were quickly answered by Adams who admitted they'd had a shocker and in the next Championship outing they crushed Yorkshire by an innings. The title trek was back on course.
The final run-in wasn't without the odd frayed nerve, especially against Kent at Canterbury. Mushtaq had taken 13 wickets on a spinner's paradise, but James Tredwell made the target of 161 appear double. Adams admitted that his team "played shots they wouldn't normally" in the situation, but they squeaked home by two wickets to leave them in control of their own destiny. In the end, the march of the Martlet was unstoppable.
Andrew McGlashan is editorial assistant of CricinfoFeeds: Andrew McGlashan
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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