Cricket: Why Sussex are all at sea

Stephen Brenkley reports on the fall-out from war on the Hove front
Click to follow
The Independent Online
As a marketing ploy it is neatly evocative. Only the deeply unromantic would fail to be stirred by the message: "Proud traditions, future glories." Unfortunately, it is supposed to apply to Sussex County Cricket Club and would thus seem to be utterly misplaced since any prospect of delivering imminently on the second half of the slogan without the use of a time machine have all but disappeared.

Sussex keep losing players. Of last summer's regular team three members have already gone. Ed Giddins was hastily and perhaps harshly sacked after being found guilty of taking cocaine while Test leg-spinner Ian Salisbury and the 21-year-old all- rounder Danny Law announced their departures last week. Two more could go swiftly. The club's erstwhile captain and regular leading scorer, Alan Wells, has been given permission to look elsewhere and the immensely attractive, if occasionally infuriating stroke-playing batsman Martin Speight is out of contract and out of sorts with his native county.

Never in the history of the Championship can there have been an exodus of such accomplished cricketers, all of them immediate targets of other clubs. The manner in which they have been pursued, incidentally, suggests a domestic first-class game which is vibrant rather than, as is often alleged, dead on already sluggish feet. Sussex, however, are hardly giving the impression of a county at ease with themselves, and the secretary, Nigel Bett, has admitted to a mini-crisis, presumably on the grounds that half a team is better than none.

Bett was ill last week and unable to keep an appointment to explain the malaise. The players fervently deny dressing-room disharmony and while Wells might not have been universally popular (which captain is?) there is considerable sympathy for the way in which he was removed from office the day he returned from holiday in October.

Speight, choosing his words carefully, said: "Sometimes it is possible to get the impression from the committee that the club is being run for their benefit. The players don't seem to be given proper consideration and I don't really feel wanted."

At 29, Speight, a former Young England player who has never quite entirely fulfilled his youthful promise, still has much to offer and would like to keep wicket as he did when younger. As Sussex have appointed wicketkeeper Peter Moores as their new captain this is unlikely to happen at Hove. Having been offered new terms late last week, Speight said: "I haven't been in contact with any other counties but I'm now no closer at all to agreeing a contract with Sussex." Durham, where he attended university, are surely lying in wait.

Salisbury is moving to Surrey because he feels they are certain trophy winners. Sussex, in the bottom half of the Championship eight times in the past 10 years, eliminated at the first stage of the Benson and Hedges Cup nine times and only three times in or beyond the NatWest Trophy quarter- finals have become perennial under-achievers.

"A turning point for me was the NatWest quarter-final against Yorkshire last summer," Salisbury said. "We lost after hauling ourselves back into it. Afterwards I felt I had nothing else to give. I was drained." Tellingly, Surrey have already told him that they may bring over the former Australian leg-spinner Terry Jenner for personal coaching.

"I don't want to dwell on the past but I'm ambitious. I want to play in big matches," said Salisbury, who was offered generous terms to stay at Hove. His desire to leave must have been strong as Moores was probably his best friend in the Sussex side and he is also godfather to the new skipper's son.

Two other occurrences may have contributed to the club's current misfortune. The dramatic loss of the NatWest Trophy final to Warwickshire in 1993 after scoring 321 profoundly affected the side's self-belief thereafter. "Look what happened to Warwickshire," Salisbury said.

The departure of the repected and well-liked coach Norman Gifford to be replaced by Desmond Haynes was also neither instantly popular nor effective. Gifford might not have persuaded a team which were better on paper than the pitch to bring Hove much silverware, but there was a feeling that with his experience he had much to offer around the county.

But not all is lost. The opening batsman Bill Athey, who is spending the winter in the county's marketing department, remarked wryly: "We'll be here next April, same as ever." But Athey, adept a player as he has been, is 40 next year and may not have a glorious future.