Throughout the pandemic, my No1 priority as Sussex Cricket chief executive has been ensuring financial stability for the club.
That’s certainly been a challenge, with our revenue streams effectively closed off since March 2020, whether from welcoming spectators to matches, hosting concerts or operating the conferencing and events side.
But whenever this period ends, we’ll be able to say we’ve done everything we can to limit the damage. We came through last year and we’ve a prudent plan for this year, which is on track.
Having protected the financial side, we can emerge from the pandemic in a position to open for business again, with the masterplan for the ground progressing as planned, our community programmes ready to fully resume and our strategy for long-term sustainability still in a good place.
The pandemic has probably allowed us to accelerate our cricketing strategy of developing homegrown players and, specifically, the development of the current group of very talented players that have come through our pathway.
Last season, even before Dizzy (Jason Gillespie) left, we took a decision to fast-track that process. Working with performance director Keith Greenfield and academy director Richard Halsall, as well as incoming head coaches James Kirtley and Ian Salisbury, we decided to blood a number of the young guys coming through.
That was a deliberate decision because we could see we’d be saying farewell to Dizzy and that we’d have a new beginning and a chance to put in place plans for the years to come.
It’s slightly unusual having split head coach roles, but we’re very confident Ian and James can support each other, dovetail their approaches and take the pressure off each other at various points.
The idea is to build the red-ball team for the seasons to come, while hopefully maintaining our success with the T20 side. The start of this season has built on the shortened programme at the end of last summer as we progress on the journey we’re now on.
Ultimately, we want successful teams built on players developed at Sussex and supported by quality overseas players and intelligent recruitment.
If you look back at the most successful period in the club’s history in the 2000s or indeed at other counties that have won trophies, they’ve been founded on a culture of developing their own quality players. The very best will go on to play for England, which is another part of what we’re trying to do.
We’re seeing it now with Jofra and CJ – who while not from Sussex are players developed here at Hove – and we are very hopeful Ollie Robinson and Phil Salt will follow suit. As much as bringing success to Sussex, it’s about providing a regular supply of cricketers for the national side.
If we do that, we also look after the long-term future of cricket in the county. If ten and 11-year old boys and girls are seeing players that grew up in their town, played for their club or went to their schools, playing for Sussex and England, that will be hugely inspirational and drive participation.
Our county has great clubs, great schools that play the game and we need to make sure we keep the game healthy at grassroots level. If our elite players are inspiring in the way I’ve just mentioned, then the Sussex Cricket Foundation with all their programmes can get as many people playing cricket as possible.
It’s all linked: if our top players are inspiring a strong grassroots game in Sussex, then our grassroots game can produce the next generation of top players. If people are proud of what their county achieves on the pitch and the work it does in the community, then more people will come and watch, and sponsors will want to be involved. And those, ultimately, are the things that will ensure the long-term sustainability of Sussex Cricket.