Summary/description of season
Considering the struggles of 2022, 2023 was a solid year of progress for the men from Hove. It was sprinkled with a little stardust, but also was not without its share of controversy. In the red ball game, the club finished 3rd in Division Two of the County Championship having only lost one red ball game all season, but only winning 3, with ten draws, demonstrating a grit and resilience missing from last season but also a lack of cutting edge with the ball. This was not helped by on-field discipline issues which boiled in the win over Leicestershire which saw four players suspended, and a 12-point deduction. In the white ball area, they finished rock bottom of their group in the One Day Cup, winning only 1 game out of 8; and failed to make it out of the group stage in the Blast, finishing 6th in the South Group.
The club were the archetypal draw specialists in the Championship, with an inability to take 20 wickets holding them back from pushing harder for promotion. England’s Ollie Robinson only made three County Championship appearances in 2023, but made it count with 20 wickets in that time. Ari Karvelas finished top wicket taker with 35 wickets in 8 appearances and was well supported by off spinner Jack Carson with 31 wickets, with many pleased to see him back playing regularly after some off field issues with previous head coach Ian Salisbury. Overseas signings such as Australian seam bowling all-rounder Nathan McAndrew (31 wickets) and Jaydev Unadkat (11 wickets in 3 games) also provided useful contributions. The fact that the highest wicket taker is 35 wickets highlights that they lacked a cutting edge, but also can be mitigated by the fact that apart from Fynn Hudson-Prentice, no regular bowler played all 14 Championship matches, due in part to injuries, the Hundred, and international call ups.
The batting unit produced a solid group effort in the Championship with seven batters managing more than 600 runs. All-rounder Fynn Hudson-Prentice led the way with 879 runs including nine 50+ scores, with youngster James Coles breaking through in second place with 849 including three centuries. Only three players managed to get to three figures but managed eight between them. Indian test batter and Championship captain Cheteshwar Pujara had another good season, managing 649 in only eight games, with a hint of what might have been if his availability had been better. Tom Haines had a disappointing year, managing only 662 in 11 games and failing to make a century, which has probably put him down the list in the minds of the England selectors. Aussie superstar Steve Smith also had a solid three game spell where he averaged 40. It is fair to say that Sussex do not hold back when picking their overseas players!
The Blast was also a frustrating experience as they narrowly missed out on the quarter finals after finishing 6th in the South Group. The batting unit was built around veteran Ravi Bopara, and supported by Michael Burgess, on loan for the competition from Warwickshire, and Shadab Khan, but there was little else of substance after them. The bowling unit showed some promise, with left arm paceman Tymal Mills leading the attack alongside Shadab and Ari Karvelas, contributing 40 wickets between them. The rest of the bowlers did not provide the same incisiveness, but the likes of Brad Currie (he of that wonder catch against Hampshire), young leggie Archie Lenham, and Bopara offered useful control. A little incisiveness with the ball, and more firepower with the bat should see the club pushing further in the Blast next year.
The One Day Cup was a miserable affair, as they only managed one win out of eight matches. Pujara led from the front again with bat, poking a little out of the red ball pigeonhole, making the only two hundreds Sussex managed in the competition, and averaging 76.8 overall. Tom Haines had a useful campaign, with four 50’s in his 318 runs. After those two there was very little of substance. The bowlers struggled for penetration with only two bowlers managing 10 or more wickets, Jack Carson who led the way with 12, and seamer Henry Crocombe with 10. They also managing to exert little control with most bowlers going for 7 runs per over or more.
LV=CC: 3rd – Division Two
Vitality Blast: 6th – Southern Group
ODC: 9th – Group B
Leading Run scorers
LV=CC: Fynn Hudson-Prentice – 879 runs at 48.83
Vitality Blast: Ravi Bopara – 408 runs at 37.09 (SR 146.23)
ODC: Cheteshwar Pujara– 384 runs at 76.80
Leading Wicket Takers:
LV=CC: Ari Karvelas – 35 wickets at 22.85
Vitality Blast: Tymal Mills – 18 wickets at 21.11 (8.44 runs per over)
ODC: Jack Carson – 12 wickets at 29.75
Player of the Season:
Fynn Hudson-Prentice – 1301 runs at 37.83 / 31 wickets at 47.16
The all-rounder was a model of consistency with the bat in the red ball game, and made some useful white ball contributions too, as he started to show glimpses of his undoubted potential following a previously injury laden spell after joining from Derbyshire at the end of the 2021 season. He has much work to do on his bowling, but the fact that he was able to chip with some useful wickets shows he has something there to work with.
Could have done better:
Ali Orr – the opening batter had a disappointing 2023 after a stellar 2022 season. His season was injury affected but when he was able to get on the park, he was not his usual effervescent, powerful self with the bat. He is capable of taking attacks to the cleaners in quick time and is the quintessential modern day ‘Bazball’ opening bat, capable of Zak Crawley-esque displays of ball striking and timing. Should he stay fit, he could be a crucial component at the top of the order to give the side fast starts and create more time for the bowlers to take 20 wickets.
Need to work on:
In the red ball game, the bowling is in dire need of strengthening both in terms of quality and experience, as they often struggled to force wins in the fourth innings. Also keeping the likes of Karvelas, Brad Currie, and George Garton on the park will be a useful start. Chris Wright pulling out of his proposed move was a disappointment for the club as he is exactly the type of experienced seam bowler they are crying out for.
There is much work to do in the 50 over game, where the bowling also appears to lack incision and control. The fact that the batting struggled was surprising as the young talent in their ranks such as Haines, Coles, and Oli Carter look ready made for the white ball game.
The club need to be active in the transfer market to strengthen the bowling stocks and add some experience and nous, but there are grounds for optimism for 2024 after managing as many red ball wins in 2023 as they had in the previous three seasons combined. They will be hoping that Pujara returns for 2024 and can get on the park more often. Ravi Bopara has been released despite having an excellent Blast campaign and will be missed, but they will still have the star quality of Tymal Mills to call upon.
But look slightly deeper and there are still some causes for concerns. The disciplinary issues which boiled over in the Leicestershire game were not a one-off occurrence, this was the fourth disciplinary charge the club had faced in 2023 and was the reason that captain Pujara received an enforced rest alongside Karvelas, Haines, and Jack Carson. Carson received his ban for tripping Leicestershire batter Ben Cox going for a run in a display of frustrated petulance, while Karvelas is alleged to have made some offensive comments to the Leicestershire players. Strong leadership is needed in the dressing room to stamp this out in future.
Season Rating: 6/10