Luke Wells' association with Sussex spans far longer than his 10 years on the club's books as a professional. He played for their age-group teams since he was a boy, while his father Alan and uncle Colin scored nearly 30,000 first-class runs for the county between them.
As such, it is no surprise that it is still yet to sink in that he is now a Lancashire player. "In 2019, we played them and they completely killed Sussex," he recalls via Zoom, before tailing off and correcting himself. "I need to get used to saying 'we'. We completely killed Sussex." It may be some time before that becomes second nature.
It can only be hoped that the nature of his exit will not ruin Wells' memories of his time at Hove. He scored 18 first-class hundreds in a Sussex shirt, all of them in first-class cricket. While the runs dried up somewhat in his final years at the club, it is only so long since he was being talked up as a potential England opener.
"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed with the manner in which it ended," he admits. "I know the financial situation was difficult and tough decisions had to be made [but] it potentially could have been handled a bit better. But look, I've been associated with the club since forever. I'll always have a connection with this place, and I'll always remember the good times."
If the response on social media was anything to go by, then Wells' release came as a surprise to many. "Surely someone must sign Luke Wells," tweeted Rob Key. "Proper player," noted Jofra Archer, "and can bowl too."
"I felt quite helpless and stuck. It was challenging, there's no doubt about it. My fiancée and I have got a little boy who will be three in February, and there's mortgages and all the normal stuff"
Luke Wells didn't play a game for Sussex in the Bob Willis Trophy
In fact, he had seen it coming a long way off. At the start of lockdown, Wells had raised his concerns to this website about the possibility of the whole season being lost, knowing that after two lean years, he was not guaranteed a contract extension. "Normally it's black and white: you're judged on performance, runs and wickets are your currency," he said. "But if we play no red-ball cricket whatsoever, what happens?"
Three months later, in the days before Sussex's first Bob Willis Trophy game, he was asked to come into training earlier than usual. "I had a sit-down meeting on the square with Ben Brown, Jason Gillespie, Jason Swift and James Kirtley," he recalls. "I was basically told I wasn't playing and the numerous reasons why - technical, and all sorts of other things.
"That was only for the first game, but there was no second-team cricket this year. I was coming to the last year of my contract and hadn't gone that well previously, so I needed an opportunity to prove myself. I asked: 'What can I do to get back into the team? Am I in your plans?' I was told: 'Unfortunately, with such a short season, we're unlikely to change the team'.
"I felt quite helpless and stuck. It was challenging, there's no doubt about it. My fiancée and I have got a little boy who will be three in February, and there's mortgages and all the normal stuff [to worry about]. The lack of control and not knowing what would happen was the most difficult thing. You're planning for when it ends, but when your career is potentially cut in half in the midst of the economic situation we're in now, it's scary and stressful."
Luke Wells shovels into the leg side•MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Wells is studying for a history degree at the Open University and doing his coaching badges, but had not banked on the prospect of finding himself without a club at the age of 29. Various counties were interested in signing him before Lancashire ramped up their pursuit, but there were stumbling blocks due to the obvious financial uncertainty.
"I was staring down the barrel of having played my last game, given the situation with Covid, all the uncertainty, finances, budgets… A lot of counties were coming back to me saying: 'We'd love to have you, but finances [are the problem]. After staring the reality of not playing again in the face, I'm so excited now to be able to continue doing what I love for a living."
Wells would normally be playing grade cricket in Melbourne at this time of year, but has instead been packing boxes ahead of his move up north at the end of this week. His first day in pre-season training is on Monday, and after signing a two-year deal, he has some level of security at the club.
He will have something to prove when he pulls on the red rose for the first time. After piling on over 1,200 Championship runs in 2017, Wells averaged in the mid-20s in both of the following two seasons, and admits that his performances "haven't been at the level I would expect of myself".
He recalls a "eureka moment" in the nets while out of the Sussex side this summer, when he worked out that a technical flaw had crept in, and insists he can get back to his best after becoming "potentially a bit stale, without really realising it". Following two seasons without a white-ball appearance, Wells' cause may be helped by the anticipated absence of several Lancashire players during the One-Day Cup next season due to their involvement in the Hundred, and his legspin could come in useful, too.
But for now, he is simply looking forward to playing the game again. "I don't usually say stuff like 'things happen for a reason' - I'm not that type of guy. But I suppose going through something like this will, hopefully, give me a fresh lease of life and a challenge to embrace at Lancashire.
"It's very doubtful that I could come across a more stressful year than what this one has been, so I'm just going to try and enjoy every moment: the ups and the downs."