Cricket: Sussex force opposition to sit up and take notice

MAN IN THE MIDDLE Jason Lewry (Sussex)
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The Independent Online
THERE has been much optimistic talk emanating from Hove lately and while some of it can be put down to the time of year and a clutch of new arrivals - Chris Adams and Michael Bevan among them - only the weariest of cynics would dismiss it all as groundless.

Sussex giving top sides a run for their money? Sussex players nudging the Test selectors? After the dismal summer of 1997 and the double wooden spoon, it may sound far fetched - but not on the days that James Kirtley and Jason Lewry are knocking over opposition batsmen.

David Gilbert, who moved from the Oval during the winter to become director of cricket with Sussex, has set both his new ball bowlers the target of a place on the Ashes tour, a goal he does not see as fanciful.

While Kirtley's explosive start to the season, of which Nottinghamshire felt the full force last week, has impressed everyone who has watched him, Lewry - at 27 the senior of the pair by four years - hardly dares think about such a possibility. He would be happy merely to return to where he was when he disappeared from view, almost two years ago. At that point, with 36 wickets to his name by July, the 6ft 3in left-armer was being talked about as a genuine A-tour candidate. But then a back injury curtailed his season and it was not until Christmas that a correct diagnosis was made - that Lewry had suffered a stress fracture.

"For six months it was reckoned to be a trapped nerve," he said. "I was told simply to rest but finally at Christmas the stress fracture was discovered. I underwent an operation in March but the recovery period is seven to eight months so that put me out for the whole of last season.

"I can't tell you how frustrating that was, especially as Sussex were having such a bad season.

"I'm only a couple of games away from being fully fit now. But in some ways it has been like starting my career all over again, trying to get back my rhythm and confidence and bowling as I was before.

"I'm confident physically, in that I don't worry that my back will go again. It is just a matter of learning to put the ball in the right place again consistently.''

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