How success by the sea can benefit England

County's belated glory has answered the detractors. Stephen Brenkley reports from a happy Hove
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The Independent Online

Anybody who supposes that county cricket is a lame duck should have been here. From the England captain downwards, they would have had their answer in Hove last week. The Championship matters all right.

Perhaps it is too easy to be ensnared by the allure of popular marching tunes and the fact that one of the longest waits in sport was at last over. "Sussex By The Sea", a happy ditty, was played repeatedly because, 164 years after being formed, the county had won the title for the first time. That itself made it a heck of a story, and it was uplifted by the awareness that six years earlier the club had been in turmoil.

Six of the first team left, so did the club chairman and chief executive; the committee were sacked. It did not get better quickly. The following year, Sussex finished rock bottom. Then they hired Chris Adams on smart money. The day he arrived in 1998, his agent - a county cricketer with an agent! - said cricket needed stars and big salaries made stars.

But it was not all hunky-dory. Adams's methods worked initially, but in 2000 he and Sussex were in trouble again. During one match he pushed an opponent and was fined by the England and Wales Cricket Board, after another he rowed with an umpire. Sussex finished bottom again, Adams survived.

It is truly something, then, to achieve what he and the county's coach, Peter Moores, have achieved. What not a single one of the fancy-pants cricketers of Sussex's stylish past - not Ranji, Duleep, Fry, or the Nawab of Pataudi, none of the Gilligans, neither Sheppard nor Dexter, not Greig or Imran Khan - had managed. There were men and women at Hove last Thursday who had waited all their lives for this, as had their parents before them.

It was still frightfully English in a quaint, middle-class way. A middle-aged man in thick glasses went up to a woman of similar years with a ruddy, no-nonsense complexion. "I've been sitting behind you for years and never spoken to you," he said, "but isn't this marvellous." "Yes, isn't it," she replied, without a flicker of recognition, since she had had her back to him for three decades, "and this is a good moment to introduce yourself." They resisted the urge to embrace.

Yet there was the uncomfortable feeling that this lovely scene made it easy to ignore recent observations on the state of the domestic professional game. After all, was it not a Pakistani, Mushtaq Ahmed, who had taken 103 wickets, and a Zimbabwean, Murray Goodwin, who had scored a club-record 335 not out in the final, decisive match? And were not two of the leading batsmen, Adams and Tony Cottey, men whose international aspirations had long since faded? None of the Sussex squad is on tour with the England Test team this winter. If the Championship is there to serve England this is not a sound reflection on that objective, or the competition's winners.

But that is to ignore potential. James Kirtley won a Test for England last summer and is unfortunate to have been overlooked. Robin Martin-Jenkins might have persuaded another selection panel that he deserved a bash at one-day cricket, others like Tim Ambrose and Matt Prior might still. Robin Marlar, the county's former captain who helped to lead the revolt in 1997, said there were hundreds of kids being coached in the county's academy. "But nobody is interested in coming down to see that." He also considered this to be as good a side as Sussex have had, and probably in terms of teamwork better. "The whole history of this club is that it's always been interested in style and I thought the style of the proceedings today was top-drawer."

But that style, due in large part to the efforts of Moores and Adams, has been complemented with substance. It could, and should, lead to serious discussion about whether there is an international future for Moores. England have made much of having a foreign coach who pays attention to detail, but Duncan Fletcher will not last forever. Moores has brought together a disparate set of players and moulded a team. "I've done the preparations and let Chris lead," was how he put it. Adams said: "This is down to him as much as me. If England need a replacement at any stage they need look no further; he's an outstanding coach and individual who is the most dedicated person I've come across in the game." People say such things at such times, but Moores' endeavours merit approval and serious examination.

And talking of England, it still seems pertinent to consider what this Championship might mean in that context. "Bugger that for the moment," said Marlar. And he was right.

The ups and downs

Champions: Sussex
Runners-up: Lancashire
Relegated: Essex, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire

Second division
Champions: Worcestershire
Promoted: Northants, Gloucestershire