In many ways, for Sussex’s hopes for the 2022 season, it may be apt to quote that erstwhile pop philosopher Yazz, as in her immortal words, the only way is up (apologies, for some of our younger readers that reference may be lost on them). In the County Championship (CC) they struggled badly and only managed to win one match all season. In the Royal London One Day Cup (RLODC), they fared slightly better and won 2 of their 8 matches as they exited the competition in the Group Stage. While in the T20 Blast, sprinkled with the addition of stars and experience like Tymal Mills, Ravi Bopara, Luke Wright and Rashid Khan, they reached the semi-finals only to lose to eventual winners, Kent.
This in a microcosm sums up Sussex’s season, with a lack of experienced heads around the many fine young players they have, the youngsters battled hard but ultimately struggled. But the policy of flooding the squad with youth may bear fruit in future seasons, the success of Tom Haines who finished the season as the leading first class run scorer in the country, and the emergence of seamer Jamie Atkins, and spinners Archie Lenham and Jack Carson in the bowling department offers some hope for the future.
The club saw a group of experienced players leave the club at the end of the 2021 season, with the likes of Mitch Claydon, Stuart Meaker retiring, Chris Jordan rejoining Surrey, opening bat Phil Salt joining Lancashire, and Ben Brown joining Hampshire. While Brown apart, who scored 976 first class runs in 2021, none of these played regularly in the CC, however Jordan and Salt played major roles in the T20 Blast run, so leave big holes to be filled in white ball cricket.
The management team at Sussex have been undoubtedly busy during the winter trying to fill in the gaps to make the club more competitive in the longer formats, and it is fair to say that they appear to have made some excellent signings. Strengthening the batting unit by bringing Cheteshwar Pujara and Mohammed Rizwan. Pujara joins for the whole season, while Rizwan will only be on the South coast until June, but they will bring class, runs and experience in red ball cricket to a side in desperate need of such qualities. Australian keeper-batter Jos Phillippe also joins, while primarily signed for the T20 Blast he will also be available for the CC when Rizwan returns to Pakistan duty. To further bolster the batting unit, and in an almost direct swap for last season’s captain Ben Brown, wicket-keeper batsman Tom Alsop joins from Hampshire. Alsop should also further strengthen the top order and provide further support for Haines.
To bolster the bowling unit, England seamer Steven Finn joins from Middlesex to provide experience and undoubted class. Former Derbyshire all -rounder Fynn Hudson-Prentice also joins and will help to fill the void left by Chris Jordan, who has left to rejoin Surrey. FHP offers the side some balance in all formats and will be looking to push on and fulfil his early potential. Rashid Khan also returns for the T20 Blast and brings star quality in that format. The club may see more of England seamer Ollie Robinson during the summer than expected unless he resolves his ongoing fitness issues, he may well have a point to prove during the early rounds of the Championship season as he will be fired up to prove a point to the selectors. Intriguingly, the club may also see more of Jofra Archer as he plays white ball cricket only to manage his return from an elbow injury.
In summary, on paper the club have made some excellent signings to address obvious issues in a young and talented squad, and they should become more competitive in red ball cricket, with the likes of Pujara and Rizwan providing experience alongside the talented Tom Haines, plus a bowling attack with the test match class of Robinson and Finn supported by Hudson-Prentice, Jamie Atkins and Jack Carson. In spite of this, they would probably be outside bet for promotion from Division 2 behind Nottinghamshire, Middlesex, and Worcestershire.
The white ball offers their best chance of success, particularly the T20 Blast under new captain Ravi Bopara, with the likes of Tymal Mills, Rashid Khan, George Garton, and Jofra Archer provides them with a high-quality white ball attack. Whether they have adequately replaced the explosive Phil Salt remains to be seen, but the white team looks exciting and should entertain.
Overall, 2022 looks like it should promise more than 2021 as they put the building blocks in place to resurrect their glory days of the early 2000’s but may fall just short of silverware. This could be the start of exciting times at Hove.
The bowling attack lacked experience and cutting-edge last season, so they will be looking to Steven Finn to lead the seam attack alongside Ollie Robinson and guide the youngsters. Further England honours may sadly be out of reach for him now, but he should still have plenty to offer the county game and will have a point to prove after his recent injury struggles.
One to Watch
Tom Haines will be looking to avoid second season syndrome after his breakout year in 2021. 1,176 first class at 47.04 and 252 List A runs at 36.00 in a struggling side will have got the England selectors taking a closer look after the test batting unit continues to struggle. He has also been appointed RLODC and County Championship captain as a show of faith, so many around the country will be watching him closely. The CC season opener against Nottinghamshire will be a good test for him and what is essentially a test match quality attack including Stuart Broad, James Pattinson, and Dane Paterson.