We Need To Talk About Sussex
Updated: May 17
In most of the article posts and quizzes on Cricket District, we have tried to keep away from talking about Covid 19 too often but in some cases it has been too integral to the subject matter to avoid the elephant in the room.
For many sports clubs around the world, 2020 caused a huge amount of financial hardship both at an amateur and professional level.
While many amateur clubs were (in the UK at least) subsidised and offered grants by the government, some still struggled to cope with the fallout from the 2020 and have subsequently folded.
The professional game also received grants to counties afloat but there has been a stark difference between the counties with Test grounds and those without. An even greater gap in fortunes can be seen between the counties and the teams in the Hundred.
Whilst money was being pumped in making and launching the competition in its debut year, some counties have visibly struggled to survive.
Understandably, the ECB can’t be expected to consistently bail out cricket clubs that aren’t making money. That wouldn’t make financial sense.
But there are certain factors which mean that the environment for growth and making money has not been afforded to smaller counties.
One of the bleaker representations of this in action is my county, Sussex CCC.
Without being within the Sussex bubble it is usually very difficult to tell what is going on behind closed doors.
Some counties have, for years, regularly made losses and it seemingly hasn’t outwardly affected the club too much. In many cases they’ve had international fixture revenue to fall back on.
Sussex do not have this luxury.
Traditionally the county has been a well run club, comfortable with its position despite not having the financial firepower of teams like Surrey, Lancashire or Yorkshire.
Despite not quite being able to reach the heights that they had done in the noughties - the county had continued to produce high quality talent even after the golden era of Chris Adams, Robin Martin-Jenkins and Mushtaq Ahmed had gone.
Sussex had also become a county known to rehabilitate and revive careers. Reece Topley and Chris Jordan successfully rebuilt their careers from the building blocks that Sussex allowed them to do. After the tragedy of the death of Tom Maynard, Rory Hamilton-Brown also attempted to re-stake his claim as one of England’s best batsmen by moving away from the humdrum of South London to the more sedate lifestyle in Hove.
Last year the pandemic loomed large over Sussex and the first signs of issues occurred during the 2020 summer, where seasoned legends such as Luke Wells and Danny Briggs were overlooked - the implication being that the South-Eastern county could no longer afford to play them week to week. By the end of the season they had moved clubs.
Although Sussex’s best players luckily have been able to play this year, the county has still begun to haemorrhage their best players once more as Phil Salt and Chris Jordan were picked up by larger counties.
They have been fortunate to pick up Middlesex’s Steven Finn and former Sussex player Fynn Hudson-Prentice but it doesn’t hide the fact that the county has been putting out sides in the County Championship with an average age of 19.
It’s not to say that these players don’t deserve to be there. I genuinely believe many of the players coming through look the real deal, but they have so few heads around them to guide them.
Further mystery continues to surround the regular absences and the stripped captaincy of club legend Ben Brown. While Tom Haines is a more than suitable replacement, even if he’s only 22, the question must be asked: what did Brown do wrong?
Perhaps this is a harsh judgement from a fan who has the team’s performance under more of a microscope than other places - Sussex can’t be the only county struggling to make ends meet at the moment.
This inspection of the club’s fortunes in the County Championship and the One Day Trophy are also somewhat placated by the fact they’ve reached T20 Finals Day with a side that includes Luke Wright, Ravi Bopara and Tymal Mills.
But it does little to cover over the cracks - all three are limited to T20s and closer to the end of their careers than the start.
This draws me back to the subject of the Hundred.
It is impossible to write new, uncovered territory of the competition, some love it and some despise it.
It is also possible to see it from a neutral perspective too. On the positive side it’s great for crowds, great for coverage and great for the women’s game. On the negative side it relegated the One Day Cup to a second string competition, side-lined counties and alienated long-term fans.
However, you feel about the Hundred - the above are facts that have emerged in the aftermath of the first year of the competition.
For a non-Test ground county like Sussex (and many other counties) the Hundred has not been a positive influence. Losing players, little coverage and all for a One Day competition where the final was played on a Thursday and barely advertised.
If, as promised, the Hundred is able to subsidise the county game - Sussex may yet thank the ECB for the invention of this competition. However, seeing the investment that the competition has already taken it looks as though it will also consume a lot of funds too.
Hopefully the scheduling too is just a teething problem - with acknowledgement from the top brass at the ECB that the large gaps in the County Championship season have to be rectified to renew England’s Test hopes.
So where does that leave a club like Sussex?
Hopefully, this is just a bump in the road and that once we truly emerge from the sticky grip of Covid - smaller counties will be allowed to get to their feet once more and compete as best they can.
Worryingly, it could mark the beginning of people pointing to loss-making counties and asking why we even need County Cricket any more at all.
This is a long feared ‘worst case scenario’ but a scenario nevertheless that has reared its head once more in the aftermath of the last eighteen months.
They can get through it and emerge stronger - but they need support and backing to get there...