It has been all change off the field for Sussex as the departure of Jason Gillespie has heralded a new era at Hove.
Gillespie’s decision to return to his homeland to take charge of the South Australia Redbacks has brought about the appointments of two head coaches – ex England spinner Ian Salisbury for first-class and 50-over cricket, and former Sussex and England seamer James Kirtley for the Vitality Blast.
Add to that the appointment of former England wicket-keeper Sarah Taylor as keeping coach and it feels like a new dawn for the club.
That fresh feel off the field extends on it as well, with a crop of emerging talent among a series of consistent performers.
With the pressure off in what ought to be a transitional season, that blend of youth and experience could see Sussex make a strong impression across all three formats.
The decision to allow Luke Wells – who was Sussex’s top scorer in 2017 – to leave after a couple of barren seasons has raised eyebrows. The 30-year-old was snapped up by Lancashire and will get an immediate chance to make his point in the opening fixture at Old Trafford.
Sussex’s batting was a major concern during the truncated 2020 season, passing 200 just twice in their six first-class innings.
That places serious pressure on the fast-developing Phil Salt – who is beginning to make a name for himself all over the world – and overseas signings Travis Head and Stiaan van Zyl.
With the ball, however, Sussex are a major threat. Ollie Robinson is hammering down the England door. The 27-year-old featured just twice in the Bob Willis Trophy last season but claimed 14 wickets, building on a dynamic 2019 season that saw him take 63 Division Two wickets at 16.44.
With George Garton returning to form and fitness, and the bright emerging spinner Jack Carson, Sussex will be confident of having the bowling attack to take wickets – if they can put runs on the board.
Robinson is an invaluable performer for Sussex with the ball but he needs runs to work with and, to that end, Phil Salt is the main man at Hove. In an under-par season for Sussex’s batsman in the Bob Willis Trophy, Salt’s three fifties in four matches was a standout effort. While he continues to make his mark in global white-ball competitions, Salt has an opportunity to press his international claims against the red ball with another stellar season and Salisbury will rely on Salt’s runs as a bedrock to allow his talented bowling unit to fire.
Player to watch
George Garton was catapulted into the England frame after just his debut season at Sussex, chosen as a back-up for the 2017-18 Ashes tour. Since then, injuries have hampered the development of the promising left-arm quick but, now 23, Garton will hope he has banished those issues and can get back on track. If so, he will provide welcome support to Robinson in Sussex’s quest for wickets.
Travis Head & Stiaan van Zyl (CC), Rashid Khan (T20)
Australian Test batsman Head will bring a wealth of experience and, hopefully, runs to the Sussex middle order. Head averages just shy of 40 in Test cricket and he ought to be a key asset to the club both on and off the field.
Van Zyl will represent the club as an overseas player for 2021, having played for Sussex on Kolpak terms since 2019. David Wiese’s time as a Kolpak player at Sussex has come to an end. For the Vitality Blast, the world-renowned Afghanistan spinner Rashid Khan is due to return again.
How will they fare?
Few will expect any major challenge from Sussex this season, as they adapt to a new coaching setup and some changes to the makeup of their playing squad. That gives them something of a free hit and Sussex certainly do not lack talent. England, IPL and Hundred commitments will likely reduce the amount of time Jofra Archer, Chris Jordan and possibly Robinson spend in a Sussex shirt. But Sussex will want to compete to make it out of the group stages of the LV Insurance County Championship, and are perennial challengers in the Blast. The 2019 runners-up, with Khan in their ranks again, will be a major threat.
Season Odds (SkyBet)
County Championship 16/1
Vitality Blast 9/1
Royal London One-Day Cup 10/1