Having finished third in Division One of the County Championship last year Sussex will be hoping they can mount another serious title challenge this time around.
Sussex’s squad is a blend of youth and experience with emerging talents such as Tymal Mills and Matt Machan being supported by the likes of Luke Wright, Ed Joyce and Matt Prior.
Head coach Mark Robinson has focussed on strengthening the side’s bowling attack with the additions of Mills (Essex) and Ajmal Shahzad (Nottinghamshire), as well as signing Aussie seamer Steve Magoffin for a fourth consecutive season at Hove.
Rory Hamilton-Brown and Jon Lewis have both retired from playing with the latter taking up the role of bowling coach on the south coast. Sussex will be hoping Machan and Joyce will have gained valuable experience from their respective World Cup campaigns as they look to challenge on all three fronts this year.
The Sharks’ 2014 T20 Blast campaign started promisingly with two wins from their opening two matches. But the five consecutive losses that followed put pay to their hopes of reaching the quarter-finals. They will be hoping Sri Lankan batsman Mahela Jayawardene can bring reliable runs as they search for a greater level of consistency this time around.
Their Royal London One-Day cup campaign followed a similar pattern. The south coast side managed just three wins in the competition and will be disappointed with their poor showing overall in one-day cricket, a format in which they are used to succeeding.
Ins: Tymal Mills (Essex), Ajmal Shahzad (Nottinghamshire)
Outs: Yasir Arafat (Hampshire), Jon Lewis (RET), Rory Hamilton-Brown (RET)
With Matt Prior now seemingly out of the England picture this gives his county the chance to cash in of his considerable experience and aggressive batting style. The 33-year-old has an incredible record at this level which includes 33 hundreds and 114 half-centuries. If the desire to score runs remains, Sussex could benefit from at least two or three more years of Prior. With an increased focus from England selectors on the county game this year, I dare say the wicketkeeper will be keen to show that maybe he was written off a few years too early.
Player to Watch
24-year-old Matt Machan had a good World Cup with Scotland scoring 56 and 40 against hosts New Zealand and Australia respectively as well as a century against Ireland in a warm-up game. Machan is now a regular in the one-day set up at Sussex but will be hoping the experience he has gained down-under over the winter with be able to help him cement a play in the four-day team as well.
Veteran Aussie seamer Steve Magoffin will be back on the south coast for the fourth consecutive season this year. The 35-year-old took 72 wickets last season – more than any other bowler – at an average of 19.51. He will once again be available in all three formats and if he continues his form from last year is likely to be used as often as possible.
Magoffin is not the only veteran to grace Hove this season, as Sri Lankan batsman Mahela Jayawardene will be available for the Sharks for first half of Twenty20 competition. Jayawardene’s record speaks for itself: In 55 T20Is, the 37-year-old has scored 1,493 at an average of 31.76 including one century and nine 50s with a strike-rate of 133.18. His presence alone is likely to give the team a lift in the competition and will certainly draw big crowds down to Hove.
How they’ll fare
Sussex will expect to be challenging for the Division One title once again this year and that looks to be a realistic expectation. However a lot does depend on the form of senior players such as Magoffin and Prior.
With a good mix of youth and experience which Sussex have at their disposal, they should be there or there abouts in all three formats this year.
I suspect the batting experience of Joyce, Wright and Prior will make them hard to beat in four-day cricket at Hove meaning the longer format will be their best chance of silverware in 2015.
v Hampshire, Sunday 12th April at the Ageas Bowl
LV County Championship Division One: 8/1
Royal London One-Day Cup: 12/1
Natwest Twenty20 Blast: 16/1