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Hove, September 26 - 29, 2023, County Championship Division Two
202 & 505/7d
(T:513) 195 & 173

Sussex won by 339 runs


Farbrace sees good signs as Sussex sweep up victory over Gloucestershire

Head coach: "One more season in Division Two will put us in a really good position."

Alan Gardner
Alan Gardner
Paul Farbrace is supervising a Sussex upturn  •  Getty Images

Paul Farbrace is supervising a Sussex upturn  •  Getty Images

Sussex 202 (Haines 62, Carson 56, Taylor 5-24) and 505 for 7 dec (Coles 128, Alsop 79, Clark 72, Orr 67, Hudson-Prentice 71*) beat Gloucestershire 195 (Hammond 48, Carson 3-19, Currie 3-36, Hunt 3-52) and 173 (van Buuren 67*, Currie 3-42, Hunt 3-42) by 339 runs
Sussex's head coach, Paul Farbrace, is confident that progress is being made at Hove, despite the club falling short of his pre-season call for them to achieve promotion from Division Two. Barring a miraculous final-day run-chase from Glamorgan in Cardiff, Sussex will finish third in the County Championship's second tier, having won as many first-class games this summer as in the three previous seasons combined.
Victory in their final fixture against Gloucestershire was swiftly achieved on the fourth morning, as Brad Currie and Jack Carson shared the last four wickets - with Ed Middleton unable to bat after hurting his shoulder in the field. It enabled an almost entirely homegrown Sussex XI to finish on a high note, just a couple of weeks after an ECB points deduction effectively scuppered their chances of edging out Worcestershire for the right to be promoted alongside Durham.
It was also a show of character, having been bowled out for 100 against Derbyshire in the penultimate round and then being on the rack at 117 for 8 on the first day of this match. Sussex eventually scraped a first-innings lead, with Carson, Hunt and Currie to the fore, before a much-improved batting display, led by 19-year-old James Coles' third first-class hundred, helped the hosts to overwhelm a Gloucestershire side who finished the season winless.
With their overseas players having departed and the side captained by Tom Alsop, Farbrace was able to reflect on a performance that "shows a lot of good things about a lot of our players in the dressing room". It meant Sussex stayed the course in a sometimes choppy season, in which they drew nine in a row after beating Durham in the opening round but still harboured hopes of going up until the final weeks.
"I've been proven right that it was the right thing to do to talk about trying to get promotion," Farbrace said. "The best two teams have been promoted, there's no question Durham were the best side and Worcester played really good cricket throughout and they deserved to go up. It confirms to me that it was the right attitude and approach to try and get promoted. Great to have had three wins. We might have lost a couple and the rain saved us, and we might have won a couple.
"It gives a lot of people a lot of confidence. Players like Ali Orr, who hasn't played a lot of cricket, to finish that way and get runs; Tom Clark, the last two games have been the best he's played for the club in terms of his batting, he's played really well. Young Coles has finished with another hundred, that cements his confidence. Sean Hunt, best I've seen him bowl for the club, his best game by a country mile. There's lots of things in the game that will give people confidence going into the winter."
Farbrace had spoken at the members' forum and to local media during the final round about his ambition to fill "one or two gaps in our team" with experienced signings, and strengthening the squad will be the focus of his efforts over the off-season - a tacit acceptance that the club's policy of promoting youth needed to evolve.
Jack Brooks and Jake Ball, released by Somerset and Nottinghamshire respectively, are two players who could be on Sussex's radar, with scope to sign a senior seamer in the wake of Steven Finn's retirement and the news that Chris Wright won't be joining the club. Sussex were also buoyed by the announcement on Friday of Ollie Robinson signing a new one-year extension, following a similar deal for Jofra Archer. Robinson missed the final month of the season with a finger tendon injury sustained in the gym, but Farbrace hopes to have him fit and firing - pending England availability directives - for the start of next summer.
In terms of building the right squad and ethos to thrive at a higher level, Farbrace conceded that another year in Division Two may not be the worst thing, rather than squeaking promotion without being fully prepared.
"It was the right thing to talk about winning, because if having only won one game a year for three years, if you start talking about let's try and compete, let's try and win a couple of games, you're almost letting the players off the hook before the season's started," he said. "That's why I was very bullish, very upbeat, and I might have been a bit ahead of myself in terms of talking about getting promoted. But if we'd have been promoted, the chances are we would have come straight back down because we wouldn't have been ready to compete at the next level.
"Regardless of who we bring in, we've still got some young players who've still got a fair bit of work to do, and as a whole unit we've still got work to do. Therefore I think, another year of putting a good squad together and having good resources outside of our squad [is a good thing].
"To get some confidence, win some games, have some good senior players around to contribute and do really well, I think next year will give us one more season. But what I don't want us to do is to start putting off talking about being promoted. I don't want people to think I'm suddenly changing my mind and saying 'actually, it's a much tougher job than I thought, give me two or three more years' because I'm not trying to do that. I think realistically, one more season in Division Two will put us in a really good position."
For Gloucestershire, defeat by 339 runs put the tin lid on a difficult season, in which a number of their early fixtures were heavily rain-affected before injuries bit into the playing squad, leaving them with just three fit fast bowlers to pick from at Hove. Depending on the result in the ongoing game at Headingley, they could be overtaken by Yorkshire - whose own ambitions were curtailed by a 48-point deduction for their handling of the Azeem Rafiq case - to finish bottom of Division Two.
"The team has been pretty amazing," Dale Benkenstein, Gloucestershire's head coach, said. "They've been fantastic spirit-wise. But I don't want them to be satisfied, because there's no better way of galvanising team spirit and character than winning and playing good cricket. It has been really difficult but I'm proud of them, there's been no blow-ups, no blaming anyone. They do stick together and work their socks off.
"I just want them to almost feel disappointed and frustrated because I know we can play better and if we have the best XI out there we're going to really compete."

Alan Gardner is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick

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County Championship Division Two