Sussex reap rewards of painstaking revolution

First title is the result of an innovative coach, an imported captain and six seasons of preparation
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The Independent Online

Sussex's success in the County Championship is no fluke. Surrey may have floundered during the second half of the season but winning domestic cricket's most prized competition is the ultimate reward for a well organised and hard-working county.

It is not only on the pitch that teams make a good impression. Sides can impose themselves on their opponents by the way they prepare before a day's play and conduct themselves generally. During the last three years of my career, Sussex and Gloucestershire appeared to me to be the best-run teams in the country and it is no coincidence that it is they who won English cricket's two major trophies in 2003.

There are many at Hove who can feel proud of the transformation that has taken place on the south coast but none more than Sussex's director of cricket, Peter Moores. The county's former wicketkeeper was both captain and coach of Sussex in 1997, the season after six disillusioned capped players walked out on the club.

At the end of a disastrous summer - Sussex finished bottom of both the County Championship and the National League - Moores sat down and decided to change the culture and environment at the county. An indication of the size of the revolution is that only James Kirtley, Jason Lewry and Robin Martin-Jenkins survived from this unhappy period.

With Moores easing his way into retirement, the county's first objective was to find a captain who had the same vision as he did. Chris Adams had fallen out with Derbyshire and the aggressive batsman became Sussex's first major signing.

"The culture we wanted to create was based around a strong work ethic," Moores said. "We wanted our players to want to learn and enjoy doing the work which would make them improve as cricketers. We would tell them that if they were fit, strong and mentally tough they were a saleable asset and that if they committed to these things they would get their rewards."

In order for the players to buy into this ideal, the county and the coaches needed to provide them with the support and facilities they required. Sussex ensured this by investing in high-quality outdoor nets, a new indoor cricket school, expert coaching - Craig Savage, a baseball coach, is used to help with fielding - and a "Crickstat" statistics system that allowed Moores to record every ball each summer.

Moores feels such attention to detail has been vital in the development of his players. "Through being able to watch themselves our players have become aware of their own game," he said. "Crickstat allows me to deal with fact not fiction. Not only can I back up my views on why a player isn't performing with video, but I can stop someone beating themselves up when they have been dismissed by a good ball or when an opponent has played superbly. County cricket is changing and players are waking up. They do not just work, they work with a clear plan."

While Moores has looked after affairs off the field, Adams has ensured that plans have been followed and standards have not fallen on it. Socially, Adams is a likeable man but as an opponent he is a pain in the backside. His captaincy is like his batting, in that he wants to dominate both the game and the opposition. The 33-year-old wants and expects everything to go his way but his aggressive and positive style of leadership - Sussex have drawn fewer matches than any other side in the country - has worked. At times this attitude can lead to the occasional unsavoury incident - when he comes up against a like-minded soul - but it is seldom that he, or the side he leads, take a backward step.

Of course, none of this would have been possible without the superb bowling of Mushtaq Ahmed, Sussex's Pakistani overseas player. With over 100 wickets to his name the leg-spinner has been the final part in the club's jigsaw and it seems absurd to think that the Sussex committee were apprehensive about signing him 12 months ago.

Though it has taken Sussex 164 years to win their first Championship, Moores is not daunted by the question of where he now takes his side. "Success promotes belief," he said, "and until you win you never really know that what you are doing is right. There is still so much scope for improvement here, and winning makes you want to get better. It's very exciting."