Magical spinner gift-wraps double delight

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The Independent Online

For many cricket followers two words will sum up Sussex's County Championship and C&G Trophy double this summer - Mushtaq Ahmed. For the second time in his south coast career the diminutive Pakistani leg-spinner claimed more than 100 Championship wickets. And for the second time Sussex have won the Championship.

In 2003 Mushtaq took 103 wickets, this time around he slipped up, managing only 102. He is a phenomenon, but it would be wrong to label Sussex a one-man team. They are not even a three-man team - Rana Naved-ul-Hasan and Yasir Arafat, two other Pakistani bowlers supplied a further 76 wickets to the common cause.

A look at Sussex's progress provides proof that every one of the 17 players who have appeared for Sussex this season, has contributed something, from ever-presents Chris Adams and Richard Montgomerie to occasionals Andrew Hodd and Duncan Spencer.

And each and every one of those players has been superbly led by Adams, now in his ninth season at the helm and quite comfortably the most successful captain in the county's history. And in the background Mark Robinson, a member of the 2003 title-winning squad and now a worthy successor as cricket manager to Peter Moores, who had helped guide them to that inaugural triumph.

While 2003 was pretty spectacular, this time around Adams and his band have added the C&G Trophy to the big one, and the losers in that final at Lord's were Lancashire.

Adams has ensured that the talented parts of what is really a starless squad, have gelled into a competitive, hungry, hard-edged whole. He is a restless leader, never content to stand back and let things ride, rather he looks to make this or that fielding change, switch bowlers from one end to another and in general keep the batsmen thinking, worrying, about what Sussex are up to.

Above all he has instilled a team ethic into the side. The impression is that they play more for each other than for themselves.

They opened their Championship campaign with a draw at home to Warwickshire, thanks to some fantastic rearguard action in the second innings by Murray Goodwin and Michael Yardy. But when both those batsmen hit a lean patch others stepped in - Matthew Prior, Adams, Robin Martin-Jenkins and Carl Hopkinson - with runs to set up a run of five victories on the trot.

Mushtaq and his fellow Pakistanis were in the vanguard, of course, but there was able support with the ball from Jason Lewry, Martin-Jenkins and latterly James Kirtley.

It was not all plain sailing. That run of wins was brought to an abrupt halt by Lancashire at Aigburth, Liverpool, in June, with Sussex sent packing inside two days. They bounced back against Yorkshire, but then collected three further draws, among which was what turned out to be their only other defeat of the season, at Warwickshire.

Runs from Goodwin and Adams and some brilliant leg-spin bowling by Mushtaq as they galloped into the final straight was what separated Sussex from the following pack. They wrapped up the title with three wins in the final four matches, Mushtaq picking up 37 wickets in the process.

The C&G Trophy win was pretty much the same story. Kirtley's bowling played a significant part in claiming the silverware. Twice he took five wickets - the second in the final itself, and Luke Wright contributed with the ball in that competition, while Montgomerie was full of runs, including a couple of centuries on the way to Lord's. Goodwin, too, did his bit.

Sussex were even in with a big shout for a treble after a string of successes in the Pro40 tournament, thwarted only, coincidentally, when losing to Nottinghamshire at the last. There is always next season for that.

Triumphant trio The key men for Sussex

* MUSHTAQ AHMED

A magician. To conjure up 102 wickets in 16 matches is as close as it gets to a modern-day cricketing miracle.

* MURRAY GOODWIN

As full of runs (1,649) as Mushy is of wickets. Always on hand for a match-winning score.

* CHRIS ADAMS

Not just an excellent captain, but also produced big innings, particularly whenever the going got tough.

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