We are delighted to be in the Twenty20 finals day today as it was one of our main targets at Sussex at the start of the year. That is not to dismiss the Championship or the other one-day tournaments, it's just that we haven't been there before. It is a new mountain to scale for us and now we are there we are obviously determined to go the extra yards and win some more silverware.
It's exciting but very different to the build-up to a Lord's final. For that every player has the big day at the back of their minds for weeks, hoping to avoid injuries, dreaming of playing in front of a full crowd and bagging a winner's medal. The Twenty20 final build-up has been very different, partly because of the schedule: we are off the back of two tough Championship games and have had no time to think about it.
Twenty20 is the one format where you can adopt a "whatever happens, happens" attitude as it is just great fun. The sole purpose of a batsman is to get as many runs as quickly as you can. If you get out so be it, it may not have a massive impact on the game. There is not enough time for things to go dramatically wrong so we set no targets and throw caution to the wind with the pressure off. It'll also be great to play in front of a large crowd.
I keep hearing it will be a Sussex v Lancashire final, but we are taking nothing for granted. Maybe the tension will build if we reach the final and have some time to think about getting closer to the trophy.
Twenty20 has had a huge impact on domestic cricket that it hasn't yet had on the international game. Maybe the World Cup will change that but at county level it has been a revelation. I now see chief executives getting excited by full houses and big pay days as, financially, the game has benefited hugely. It is no secret that most counties survive thanks to ECB handouts so the extra revenue is fantastic.
Technically, Twenty20 has also had an impact. I have seen differences creeping into Pro40 games already where there has been lots more aggressive strokeplay at the top of the innings, with batsmen taking the aerial route. Scores in that form have gone through the roof and in 50-over cricket scores of over 400 have been recorded, which were once unheard of. Spin is also more prevalent. In the past people hadn't thought it an option at the start of an innings or at the death, but taking the pace off the ball can be crucial when batters are looking for boundaries. In that sense it has rejuvenated spin as an art.
From a batting perspective time will tell. Personally, I find it hard when I go back into Championship cricket to switch back to a proper mode of batting in terms of having a straight bat. In Twenty20 every shot is played with a cross bat as you are always looking for the shorter boundary or trying to hit with the wind. I have to be careful in the Championship not to stay in that groove.
Mushy's a good influence
We face Kent tomorrow and they have brought in the Sri Lankan Lasith Malinga, who is a fascinating signing. We can't really practise to play him because of his unusual, slingy action. We will have to use mental imagery but he could be as big a hit as he was in the World Cup.
The focus for us has been on Luke Wright, who has had a fantastic tournament. He has been likened to Shane Watson in his style of play and his looks and he certainly does give it a whack and can take the game away from the opposition. With the ball we have James Kirtley, who has been rejuvenated by Twenty20, and Mushy [Mushtaq Ahmed] or The Brake as I call him. Twenty20 can be like an out-of-control vehicle and chucking the ball to our leg-spinner is like applying the handbrake.
Team effort can get you off the ropes
The game we won against Lancashire this week was one of the most intense Championship matches I've played. There have been two similar matches and they were against Lancs too.
In 2003, the year we won the title, we went to Old Trafford needing nine points, but we put so much pressure on ourselves to get a draw that we self-destructed and were cleaned up in three days. The other cracker was earlier that season at Hove when we won a belter. I had a poor start to the season but suddenly found form with two tons, 140 and 198. I had also been given a lot of stick for allegedly being too cautious with declarations. I felt it was unfair and stuck to my guns. We set Lancs a large target but there was talk that we hadn't given ourselves enough time to bowl them out – but we did – with 12 minutes to spare.
It is not often a county game mirrors Test cricket but it felt like it this week in Liverpool. It was partly the personnel and partly the cricket. There have been unsavoury incidents between the two teams but this week we let the cricket do the talking. It was like two heavyweight boxers trading blows. They had us on the canvas after the first innings but as we often do we got back up and landed a few ourselves to force a quick turn around a 100-run victory.
It was a real team effort but the bowlers on Thursday were brilliant. It is great for us as it puts some distance between ourselves and one of our main rivals. There is a long way to go, though, and when we come down from the heady heights of Twenty20 we will have to refocus.
During the game I took probably my best catch ever, a left-hander diving across first slip just above the ground to remove their danger man too, Stuart Law. It was pure reflex and just stuck in the hand: when I felt it, it was utter delight.
I've found it sad this week reading malicious comments in the press aimed at individuals in the England team following the Jellybeangate affair. Cricketers expect the press to have a pop when they lose as they are well written about when they win, but I haven't read much about how England played and why they lost. The focus has been on behaviour when it will have been no different to what went on in the series against the West Indies. The team were guilty of being a little naïve with the whole jelly beans saga and they will just have to weather the storm.
I discussed with Michael Atherton earlier this year who should take over from Pete Moores as England Academy director and he said whoever it was should be chosen not just for their cricket coaching but for their ability to impart life skills too. At Sussex we are encouraging our younger players to go away in the winter and fend for themselves and leave the safety net of a county set-up where they are shaped purely in terms of cricket.
This England team is quite young, and people expect them to have a level of maturity but maybe they just lack a bit of nous. There was a time when only the captain and the coach spoke to the press but now they all are interviewed and one stray word can lead to trouble. Anyway, it has all detracted from a magnificent Indian performance. They are a delight to watch, a class act with all departments covered.
I don't ever recall sweets coming into play in cricket field pranks. The odd bail goes missing now and again but the best I remember involved Frank Griffiths, a West Indian bowler I played with at Derbyshire in the late 1980s/early 1990s. For a whole season, unbeknown to him, he batted with a men's magazine stuffed inside his pad. He didn't realise for four months and was lucky it didn't fall out.
Great Sledging No 12 in a series
Our match against Hampshire finished last weekend and we were on the receiving end of Shane Warne's "mental disintegration". He let me know he had read last week's column and was giving me grief about my reference to "depth perception". It brought to mind one other occasion we swapped words. We were playing at Arundel and I was in the middle on 83. Shane was getting a bit fed up and was accusing me of having no imagination. "If all you want is a ton, I'll bowl you some lob-ups," he said to me. "No thanks, Shane, you've already done that," I replied. It was nice to get one over on the best bowler and best sledger to have walked the planet.