Jason Gillespie’s love affair with county cricket continues into 2019; this time on the south coast as he leads Sussex into a second season after spells with Kent and, of course, Yorkshire.
The 43-year-old is undoubtedly one of the best coaches on the circuit and there is a sense that he is building something special at Hove.
Sussex’s primary aim will be to return to the top flight for the first time since the 2015 season.
For long periods of 2018, promotion was a real possibility for a side oozing with talent. However, the promotion push ran out of steam somewhat as Kent and Warwickshire pulled away.
Now, with three promotion spots up for grabs, a same-place finish will be enough for Sussex to end their four year stay in the second division.
There was success in T20 cricket, also, in a campaign that saw them finish runners-up only to a rampant Worcestershire; Jason Gillespie coming off the back of a winning Big Bash campaign, bringing star man Rashid Khan with him. Khan played an instrumental part in a frightening bowling line-up, arguably as good as any that has been seen in T20 Blast cricket.
Despite making great progress in 2018, the season ended on a somewhat sour note.
Jofra Archer’s expected absence from the south coast will leave a gaping hole in the side. But Gillespie is too good a coach to go unprepared for such an event. Mir Hamza comes in to reinforce the bowling ranks and he will play eight championship matches.
Archer’s new ball bowling partner, Ollie Robinson, put past troubles behind him last year as the 25-year-old boasted an impressive Championship wicket haul of 74 – bettered only by Kent’s Matt Henry.
Ben Brown not only leads the side well but also the batting averages, the wicket-keeper chipping in with 912 runs at 43.42 last year. Dependable kolpak singings such as David Weise and Stiaan van Zyl will allow younger players like Delray Rawlins and Phillip Salt to flourish.
More will be expected of Luke Wells in 2019, the left-hander scoring a modest 607 runs at 26.39 in 2018.
The absence of a match-winning spinner may be a cause for concern for Sussex; Will Beer and Danny Briggs tend to prosper more in white-ball cricket.
Many might have expected Chris Jordan to add his name to the growing list of white-ball only players, but the 30-year-old remains committed to his county’s cause on all fronts.
OUT: Stuart Whittingham (Gloucestershire)
Overseas: Mir Hamza, Rashid Khan (T20)
Jason Gillespie’s minimal activity in signings is a clear sign of his confidence in his squad.
It is unlikely that Jofra Archer will be the star man of Sussex’s promotion should they achieve it, instead missing the bulk of the season by playing a starring role in the IPL, World Cup, and the Ashes. Instead, Ben Brown will be instrumental to the balance of the side. Not many counties can boast a keeper-batsman capable of 1,000 first-class runs while captaining the side.
Player to watch:
Keep an eye on Delray Rawlins. The 21-year-old has as much talent as fellow West Indian team mates Archer and Jordan. Rawlins made ripples in the Blast last year and his ever-growing talent and flair could be key in taking his to the title this year.
Mir Hamza will play eight Championship matches from 20th May-July 13th. The 26-year-old has a solitary Test cap to his name but boasts an impressive bowling average of 18.34 in first-class cricket.
Rashid Khan is a welcome return to the t20 side; but the in-demand leg-spinner will only be available for the first half of the campaign.
How they’ll fare:
There will be fierce competition for promotion places despite an extra one being available. However, Sussex should have enough to grab hold of one, even with Archer’s expected absence. Expect them to improve on their two wins in the Royal London Cup; and don’t be surprised if they go one better in the Blast as well as they possess some of the most impressive names in the competition.
SSCC Division Two – 2nd
RL50 – Group Stage
T20 Blast – Winners
Opening fixture: SSCC Division Two vs Leicestershire at Hove, Friday 5th April – 11:00.
Season Odds (SkyBet):
SSCC (Div Two) – 7/2
RL50 – 16/1
T20 Blast – 7/1