Sussex will be looking to recover from a disappointing 2016 season. Glaringly they failed to return to Division One of the County Championship at the first time of asking, coming fourth in Division Two. While only losing twice, ten draws stifled their season.
While their County Championship form was unspectacular, in the Royal London One Day Cup, Sussex were abject. One win from eight matches saw them marooned at the bottom of the South Group.
Perhaps surprisingly for a county who can call upon both one the most seasoned Twenty20 cricketers in the world in Luke Wright, and one of stars of the recent IPL auction in Tymal Mills, Sussex also failed to advance from the Twenty20 group stages. A return of 13 points from 14 games was uninspiring, but the county were hampered by three of their games ending in no result, the joint most in the South Group with Glamorgan.
While Sussex haven’t made wholesale changes off the field there has been some movement behind the scenes. County stalwart Michael Yardy has joined the staff as a batting coach, while Rob Andrew has joined as Chief Executive replacing Zac Toumazi.
Player recruitment wise, Sussex have been relatively quiet during the off-season. Ed Joyce committing more to time to Ireland was obviously a blow, but the only other losses over the winter were of largely fringe players. The county’s new players should prove shrewd acquisitions. Ross Taylor and Vernon Philander will add international class to the side in the games they play, while the experienced Kolpak signings Stiaan van Zyl and the returning David Wiese will add steel to the team. Delray Rawlings has signed a full contract with the club for the first time and could be an exciting prospect, having scored hundreds in One Day and Youth Test matches for England U19s over the winter. Laurie Evans has also joined from Warwickshire, no doubt with the intention of proving himself afresh in the four-day game.
Ins: Delray Rawkins (Youth, Stiaan van Zyl (Kolpak), David Wiese (Kolpak), Laurie Evans (Warwickshire).
Outs: Lewis Hatchett (retired), Craig Cachopa, Fynn Hudson-Prentice (both released)
Key Player – Laurie Evans
This winter’s move to Sussex may be Laurie Evans’ last chance to fulfill his potential. Mark Davies, Sussex’s coach, made it clear upon signing Evans that he thought he could achieve more than he has done to date.
That a player who turns 30 this year is still being talked about in terms of potential says much about how Evans’ ability is recognised and how in red ball cricket especially he has failed to quite deliver as expected. While he averages less than 35 in first class cricket, in recent years his ability in One Day and T20 cricket has shone through. Evans played an important role in Warwickshire’s Royal London One Day Cup triumph last year, contributing 257 runs at an average of 64.25.
His signing for Sussex could represent a canny deal for both sides. Evans will strengthen the county’s one-day batting, while the lack of batting riches the team possesses gives Evans the chance to resurrect his County Championship career which had stalled at Warwickshire.
Should Evans ally his white ball performances of the last few years, with the red ball of 2013 where he scored nearly 1,000 runs he could become one of Sussex’s premier batsman.
Player to Watch – Jofra Archer
A talent long held back by injury, Jofra Archer gave notice of his potential in the latter half of the 2016 season. A former West Indies U19 international, archer only made his first class debut in July at the age of 21. Wickets against a decent Pakistani line up, followed by a five wicket haul against Somerset in the One Day Cup, gave notice to the Sussex selectors of his quality. Four wicket hauls, against Glamorgan and Leicester soon followed.
This, added to a gutsy 73, against Essex which hinted at his all round potential, show how key Archer could be for Sussex this season. While his fitness will remain a worry until he has proved he has the physique to withstand whole seasons, this could be the year he cements his space in the Sussex team. From there he could start to push for senior international honours.
Overseas Signings – Vernon Philander (until mid-June), Ross Taylor (Twenty20 only)
The signing of Vernon Philander, albeit only until mid-June, is a significant coup for Sussex, given his international pedigree and potential to thrive in English conditions. There are not many bowlers around with over 150 test wickets at under 23 a piece. A seam bowler of the Glenn McGrath school, expect him to pick up significant numbers of wickets in the early part of the season, with his accuracy and ability to move the ball both ways.
He is a parsimonious limited overs bowler too, and should stifle the opposition in the key opening overs of the 50 over competition. Sussex will have had one eye on his all-round potential too with his Test batting average a respectable 24.02.
Ross Taylor returns for another stint for Sussex, having played for the county last year. He enjoyed a very successful spell in the T20 Blast last year, scoring 394 runs at 56.28 and has been signed solely for Twenty20. In a batting line-up which has lost the experience of Ed Joyce, much will depend on Taylor. No doubt the County will be considering bringing in further overseas cover for the latter half of the County Championship.
How they’ll fare
Sussex will be looking to improve on their performances from last year in all three competitions. Promotion to Division One of the County Championship may prove beyond them. The county’s batting line up is not the strongest in Division 2, while the lack of attack-leading spinner may lead to games other sides would win meandering into draws.
That said the seam attack could be an exciting one, with Jofra Archer and Ollie Robinson exciting prospects who should continue to develop. Philander will bring consistency and wickets first up, while Sussex can also still call on the experienced Steve Magoffin.
Sussex are likely to have more joy in the limited overs formats. In T20 Tymal Mills should, if he stays fit, frighten batsmen and keep the scoring rate down with his range of slower balls. Laurie Evans will hope to keep his excellent limited overs form of last year going and Luke Wright and Ross Taylor are proven limited overs performers.
While it will not take much to improve upon their 50 over form from last year, Sussex should have a realistic chance of challenging for progression out of their groups in both limited overs competitions. A trophy though is probably too much to ask for.
v Kent, Friday 14th April, The 1st Central County Ground, Hove
Specsavers County Championship Division Two: 7/2
Royal London One Day Cup: 14/1
Natwest T20 Blast: 16/1