Friday, 10 October 2008

2008 Season Review: Sussex

Continuing our season reviews, here is an assessment of Sussex’s season.

Final Placings:
Championship – 6th
FP Trophy – 5th South East Division
Pro40 – Winners
Twenty20 – 5th South Division


This may well be remembered as the season when the most extraordinary era in Sussex’s history – that brought three Championships in five years after they had never won one before – came to an end. Chris Adams announced he was relinquishing the captaincy. While he ended with a trophy in the shape of the Pro40, there was no such luck for Mushtaq Ahmed.

It proved a season too far for one of the most influential overseas players in the history of the game. After legal wranglings to ensure he could take the field for this campaign, Mushtaq was ravaged by injuries. When he did play, the spark stubbornly failed to materialise; in six games, his wickets came at 41 apiece. But his status as Sussex’s favourite adopted son will live on.

Goodwin secures Pro40 glory
After the heady days of the past five years, this was essentially a mediocre season for Sussex. They mustered a meagre two Championship wins, conspiring to come close to relegation as they relinquished a position of complete dominance in their final game against Yorkshire. Meanwhile, they managed three wins in their Twenty20 and Friends Provident Trophy campaigns combined.

Yet domestic one-day cricket can be immensely hard to predict. Logically, Sussex were amongst the favourites for Pro40 relegation, given their dreadful early-season showings in pyjamas. But with Luke Wright, James Kirtley and Rory Hamilton-Brown restricting opponents, Sussex were able to chase down targets; indeed, they batted second in all of their games. Matt Prior, in between England duties, contributed some fine innings at the top of the order, including 137 to lead Sussex home against Somerset. The real star, however, was Murray Goodwin.

Oozing class, skill and calm, Goodwin has come as close as anyone to mastering the art of the run-chase. In the last three Pro40 games, Goodwin saw Sussex home on each occasion with superb half-centuries. The most incredible came in the final game. Chasing Notts’ 226, Sussex, as so often, left Goodwin facing a mammoth task. Needing 97 from 10 overs with just two wickets in hand, their chances cannot have been much better than 20/1. Yet Goodwin unfurled a series of big shots – not slogging, but high-class batsmanship – while Mohammad Sami played with commendable calm at the other end. Goodwin won the game with a six off the final ball: a fitting end to the Chris Adams era.

Batting struggles
Throughout, Goodwin was outstanding, as if to remind everyone that Sussex’s success was down to more than one import. With six Championship centuries, he often stood alone – the other batting was disappointing in the extreme. Adams’ top score in 14 games was 61, as he moved himself down the order in a vain attempt to find some form. Wright’s form was disastrous and no way justified his continued England ODI place, as he scored just one half-century for Sussex in all competitions. Mike Yardy battled hard and contributed some significant runs, but the new skipper should have scored a century. Chris Nash managed two in a solid season, while Carl Hopkinson and, as ever, Robin Martin-Jenkins chipped in admirably.

After being dropped by England, Matt Prior knew he had to score big runs and improve his keeping. He did both and was magnificent, fully meriting his recall. Averages of over 50 in Championship and List A cricket, whilst moving up the order in the Championship, say it all. And he played perhaps the finest innings in the Championship this season, scoring 133* out of Sussex’s second innings 212 against Steve Harmison and Calum Thorpe, with five sixes and brilliant marshalling of the tail.

Replacing Mushtaq
No one was as outstanding as Goodwin or Prior with the ball, with Jason Lewry’s 41 wickets being the most. But contributions were evenly spread, with Lewry and Corey Collymore forming a potent opening attack, Martin-Jenkins claiming a characteristic 31 wickets at 32, and Olly Rayner making most encouraging strides. The 6ft5in off-spinner was given increased responsibility after Mushtaq’s retirement, and responded with two Championship five-fers; along with leg-spinner Will Beer, he should ensure spin remains a crucial Sussex weapon.

There was embarrassment as Ryan Harris had to return to Australia without playing a Championship game. But Mushtaq was heavily involved in the signing of Sami. From the evidence of his late-season stint – his aggressive bowling, responsible batting and the way he fitted into the side – Sussex could do a lot worse than sign him up as their new overseas player.

As Mike Yardy takes the reins, Sussex are at a palpably difficult stage, with, for differing reasons, Prior, Adams and Mushtaq unlikely to contribute much next campaign. Ambitions may have to be downsized accordingly.

Player of the Season
For six Championship tons and winning the Pro40 almost off his own bat, it’s impossible to look beyond Murray Goodwin – second only to Mark Ramprakash amongst county batsmen in the noughties.

Most Disappointing Player
Dwayne Smith began with a bang in Twenty20, but he soon became the victim of perennial recklessness at the crease, lacking any selectivity. In the Pro40, his brainless batting let the side down, as he averaged just 14. Was not trusted with a solitary Championship game; providing he stays, simply must do better.

Highlight
Goodwin’s last-ball six to complete an astonishing Pro40 win away at Notts, securing the title in the process. Could any other batsman on the circuit have retained his equanimity facing such a hopeless situation?

Lowlight
The sad shuffle into retirement of Mushtaq Ahmed. A season too far, yes, but too many he is the greatest player in the county’s history.

What does the future hold for Sussex?
Share your views on the piece by leaving a comment below.

If you're interested in writing a season review for your county (we still need reviews for Somerset, Lancashire, Warwickshire, Derbyshire and Gloucestershire) or contributing in any way please email cricketingworld@hotmail.com

2 comments:

Chrispy said...

Great piece. What a player Murray Goodwin is. He is consistently up there with the best year after year. Superb in the pro40. It was a shame that Mushy was unavailable for the vast part of the season and was forced into retirement. However, he was a wonderful servant and this season highlighted just how dependent Sussex were on Mushtaq and Naved (who interestingly went on to struggle so much at Yorkshire). Sussex always relied on those two for wickets so it was no surprise that the bowling was the weak link this year.

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