On a crisp November day in 1997, a Bentley slunk its way into the County Ground at Hove. They had probably never seen its like. Things were about to change.
The dazzling motor belonged not to the man who signed for Sussex, from Derbyshire, that day, Chris Adams, but to his agent. It was pretty novel for a county cricketer then to have an agent (still is) and Jonathan Barnett, more accustomed to dealing with footballers (still is) immediately began talking up his man.
Adams was the forerunner of a new breed: the county cricketer on glamour wages. His first three-year contract was around £200,000 for three years, virtually unprecedented, and came in the face of dire warnings from the England and Wales Cricket Board.
Barnett's point, gleefully repeated, was simple: if cricket wanted stars it had to find the money stars expected. "It's a good move, Chris is a big name now." Equally, Sussex were the forerunner of a new kind of county club: prepared to invest in talent to acquire success.
They have garnered the dividend of their boldness in signing Adams. He is their longest-serving captain (nine seasons and probably counting) and on Friday they secured their second Championship title under his leadership, this one complemented by the C & G Trophy won last month.
Adams looks to be here to stay. He applied for the vacant chief executive's job at the club earlier this year and made the shortlist of three. "It came through in the interview that the timing was not right," he said. "But I got very good feedback and I think I showed I have the potential to work in that position or something similar in the future." Success on the field, paradoxically, has led to financial worries. Sussex will lose money again this year even after the £1.4 million annual fee payment they receive from the ECB and the players will receive hefty bonuses not, unfortunately, matched by gate receipts. Although their playing staff is not large, there are mutterings about the large backroom staff to whose work Adams paid generous tribute.
Sussex are worried that they will nibble away at the legacy, potentially worth £7 million, they received from the estate of the supporter, Spen Cama, before the substantial improvements required at an old ground.
But captain and team should rejoice in their triumphs. They merited the title as Lancashire, runners-up in Championship and C & G, honourably conceded. It was a stirring finish to the Championship, though it should not stifle calls for a return to one division. The Pro40, an excessive one-day tournament, was rightly overshadowed.
Adams is a robust, natural leader with a feisty personality. His belief in the team ethos is admirable and he is always prepared to pay tribute to others. Still, Sussex cannot be excluded entirely from a general concern for English cricket: the number of players who are either not qualified for England or did not learn the game here. Six of the 11 who won the title in Nottingham were nurtured, by and large, in the county. Add to those Adams, enlisted from Derbyshire, and Richard Montgomerie, signed from Northamptonshire in 1999.
This left Murray Goodwin, the former Zimbabwe Test player who is now a Kolpak player, Mushtaq Ahmed and Rana Naved-ul-Hasan, respectively former and present Pakistan Test players. Goodwin was leading run scorer, Mushtaq took 102 wickets at under 20 runs each and Rana 35 in six matches at under 17. A team game for sure but the imports were crucial.
This is to be slightly unfair to Sussex. Lancashire lost much sympathy when they signed Indian spinner Murali Kartik for the last two matches. Elsewhere, there were still too many imports, some of whom were moderate players. An examination of the Durham side that escaped relegation yesterday was not a pretty sight for those advocating the need for counties to nurture their own talent in their own academies. Six of Durham's team were born in other countries, four have played international cricket for other countries.
Yet Durham have provided three of the players who embark shortly to defend the Ashes - Stephen Harmison, Paul Collingwood and Liam Plunkett - so they have done their bit. It is easy to see that in the modern age of central contracts and limiting the amount of matches cricketers play, counties supplying England men are in trouble.
There is a whirlwind to be reaped here. Meanwhile, Adams would be a good choice as the Professional Cricketers' Association player of the year at their annual banquet tomorrow. He should definitely bowl up at the Albert Hall in a Bentley.Reuse content