Cricket: Pigott springs surprises at enterprising Sussex

An ambitious county has much to play for at Edgbaston today, says Adam Szreter
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After the winter they had, Sussex might have done the decent thing and kept a nice, low profile this season while they go about rebuilding the club on and off the field. Instead, barely a week passes without some radical new initiative or startling development at Hove.

First, there was the appointment of the Surrey second-team coach, Tony Pigott, as chief executive, followed by the additional portfolio of acting director of cricket. Then they had the audacity to start a Championship game at 1pm, instead of the time-honoured 11am, in an attempt to attract evening spectators. A day-night Axa Life League game is coming up soon, and lately Desmond Haynes was dismissed as coach and Shane Warne approached to be their overseas player next summer.

When Lord MacLaurin unveiled his master plan for the future of the game last week, guess which county was first to criticise (since partially retracted), simultaneously suggesting plans for a new competition in March? And now, in a season when they were supposed to lose to everyone including Durham, they find themselves in the NatWest Trophy semi-final against Warwickshire, two games away from their first honours in 11 years.

A potentially momentous week started for Pigott with an interview in his new office at Hove. He gives the impression he still cannot quite believe all that has happened since he and his chairman, Robin Marlar, in the cricketing coup of the decade, wrested control of the club they both used to play for.

Pigott, a member of England's one-cap wonder brigade, bowled zippy fast- medium for Sussex for 18 years and his very last game for them was on the losing side in the 1993 NatWest final - against Warwickshire. He would love to make amends for that at Edgbaston today.

"Firstly, we're absolutely delighted to be in the semi-final," he said. "But we're not just going there for a day out, we actually believe we can win. We've been playing as a unit all season; Peter Moores as captain is very enthusiastic, he's got everybody playing for each other and if everyone plays to the best of their ability, I think we've got an excellent chance."

To get this far Sussex have upset Lancashire and, in the quarter-finals, Derbyshire, against whom the 22-year-old Rajesh Rao made 158, one of the innings of the season. They achieved their first Championship win last Saturday, at the expense of the champions, Leicestershire, and although they lost heavily to Warwickshire in both the Championship and the Sunday League the week before, Pigott is unperturbed.

"I couldn't give a damn about any of their individuals," he said. "Allan Donald is a high-class opening bowler, but so is Gladstone Small. Bill Athey's a high-class opening batsman, and so's Neil Taylor. We've got good bowlers in Vasbert Drakes and Paul Jarvis. Both sides have got good individuals and it's a question of who's going to be up for it on the day."

Despite the proximity of such a big game, any conversation with Pigott these days has to be concerned as much with the future as the present. His outspoken criticism of the previous regime, particularly over the departure of several leading players, has given Pigott slightly more of a say in the club's future than he originally bargained for. He knows he has to deliver.

"The thing I really felt before I came back here was that nobody was taking any responsibility for things that were happening," he said. "Things were going wrong and nobody was doing anything about it. I will take all that on board.

"We're looking to redevelop the ground so that we've got a business here 365 days a year. At the moment we play 37 days cricket here and that's all it's used for, which is ludicrous. We rely almost totally on the ECB [England Cricket Board] handouts and we've got to try and stand on our own two feet and earn money so that Sussex County Cricket Club could still survive if the ECB didn't give us the money.

"The support we're getting from the other counties is unbelievable. We wanted to change things and we're not just going to sit there and let things happen. We're planning a night game on 27 August and people were saying, `we'll wait and see somebody else do that and then maybe we'll do it.' Well why? Why not do it yourself? We're going to make a lot of money that night.

"This late start that we tried against Essex; I know one county that said, `we always wanted to do that but, we wanted somebody to experiment first'. Why? Basically, they just see us trying to move things forward, not only for Sussex but for cricket, because we have got to somehow get people to come and watch this game.

"Nobody expected us to be in this semi-final, and if we won the final at Lord's, what a great story it would be. The further we go in this competition the more support we're going to get, because people believe what has happened here in the last six months is good for cricket.

"That's why we did it in the first place, that's why we'll continue to do it and if we win competitions - which we will do in the future - it can only help us. If we win this one, this year, it'll be just sensational."