‘We want to put bums on seats’: Sussex CCC ready to perform – and entertain

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Sussex head coach Paul Farbrace says he is learning from the experiences of last season as his side aim for promotion from County Championship Division 2.

Ahead of one of the side’s final pre-season sessions at Hove, Farbrace spoke to the media about his thoughts on last seaaon and this, also praised his two new captains for this season, new recruit John Simpson and the long-serving Tymal Mills, for the impact they have already had on younger players.

Elsewhere, Farbrace confirmed that Cheteshwar Pujara was unavailable for the season’s first fixture – a home County Championship match against Northamptonshire from Friday to Monday – but revealed that Ollie Robinson was fit to play.

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“Last year, I talked a lot about the language that we were going to use as a club; the expectation to win, the expectation to perform and not just the hope to win, and with these two gents sat alongside me, I've got two excellent captains who can really drive us forward,” said Farbrace.

Tymal Mills, Paul Farbrace and John Simpson speak to the media ahead of the season's start at Sussex CCC | Picture: Will HugallTymal Mills, Paul Farbrace and John Simpson speak to the media ahead of the season's start at Sussex CCC | Picture: Will Hugall
Tymal Mills, Paul Farbrace and John Simpson speak to the media ahead of the season's start at Sussex CCC | Picture: Will Hugall

Hear from West Indian bowler Jayden Seales on his aims for the season in the video player above.

“One of the great mistakes that I probably made during last year was that there were times when I tried to influence the onfield playing of the game too much.

“Part of that was my moving back from being the director of cricket to being a coach again, and probably learning how to coach again, which took me a little bit of time,” added the former England assistant coach.

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Overall, Sussex’s 2023 campaign went down as a qualified success amongst supporters at Hove.

The County Championship side finished third in Division Two, and but for a 17-point deduction for conduct breaches against Leicestershire and a slow over rate against Yorkshire, would have been level on points with promoted Worcestershire.

In white-ball cricket, the Sharks slumped to group-stage exits in both the T20 Blast and One-Day Cup, with their best players in each competition – Ravi Bopara and Cheteshwar Pujara respectively – not rejoining for 2024.

Pujara does return for a stretch of red-ball action set to last from April to late May, but owing to an injury developed after the Indian season will miss the first outing against Northants.

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“Puj has a small back injury which the medical team in India have been managing, so he'll arrive during the first game and he'll only he'll be available for six games, rather than all seven,” said Farbrace.

“Ollie Robinson is available for us on Friday, which is great. Jayden Seales is here. He's been here for a week already and has been bowling in the middle along with Oliver for the last few days.”

Fabrace added: “It's quite encouraging that we've got that strength in depth at the start of the season, but our job is to manage them, look after them and make sure that they will be available to play.”

Assembling a fearsome bowling attack is just one way in which Sussex can expect to make an impact early in the season, with the potential availability of Robinson and Seales for all of the first seven matches providing a Test match-quality new ball partnership.

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Elsewhere, there is new captaincy in the form of Simpson, who arrived from cash-strapped Middlesex after 15 years playing at Lords.

The 35-year-old wicket-keeper batsman was specifically recruited by Farbrace, another former Middlesex gloveman, when news of his availability came through late last season.

“A year ago, I was at Middlesex and I had my testimonial as well, so I wasn't expecting to be here,” said Simpson. “But I'm incredibly excited to be here. Things materialised quite quickly towards the end of the season and everybody knows what happened at Middlesex. I just felt that probably now is the right time.

“I’m very thankful for Farby giving me the opportunity to come down here and take on this new challenge.”

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One of Simpson’s first assignments as captain was to lead a ten-day pre-season trip to India, as the first-team squad travelled to Karnataka state to take on a range of local opponents.

“The boys have been absolutely brilliant with me,” Simpson said. “We had a great 10 days in India and pre-season has gone really well.

“I think all the boys are really looking forward to Friday and I’m just incredibly excited to get out there and get the debut done and dusted, hopefully with a win.”

While Simpson’s experience should prove invaluable to the development of a top six that otherwise contains only one player over the age of 25, the debate about his arrival surrounds the existing wicket-keeper, Oli Carter.

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Carter scored 779 runs at an average of 38.95 in last season’s County Championship, but with his glovework questioned at times, the 22-year-old has lost possession behind the stumps.

This was still a moot point by the time of the press conference, as Simpson preferred to answer briefly on the matter. “I'll be keeping all season. Nothing really to add on that front,” said the Bury-born skipper.

On Carter, Farbrace added: “Because Puj is not here, [Oli] will play the first game. “He gives himself a great chance [to stay in the team] if he gets runs.

“As we saw last year, when we needed him to dig us out of a hole, he did it brilliantly and there's no one you would want more in your team than someone who fights the way he does.”

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Despite the uncertainty about Carter’s place, the positive for Sussex is how his case represents the competition for places across the board.

The surprise loss of Ali Orr to Hampshire has led Tom Clark to seize the opener vacancy, while Danny Lamb has arrived from Lancashire to bolster the all-rounder stocks, and Henry Crocombe and Sean Hunt will battle it out for a fourth seamer’s spot.

Highly touted 20-year-old Zach Lion-Cachet is seeking his red-ball debut this season, while teenagers Danial Ibrahim, Archie Lenham, Charlie Tear, Bertie Foreman and Henry Rogers will all seek to impress when handed starts.

Chances are most likely to come in the One-Day Cup or the T20 Blast, with the latter running concurrently with the ICC T20 World Cup as Jofra Archer and Tymal Mills could go away with England while Brad Currie and Tear may be called up for Scotland.

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No matter the competition, there is harmony at the club about continuing to instil a winning mentality.

Simpson said: “My style is for guys to be pretty resilient; to go out there and be aggressive. My overriding theme is for the boys to put on a show and put bums on seats. I think that's what county cricket needs.

“Having watched England go about it, I think that's the style that [Brendon] McCullum wants. I obviously played with him a little bit at Middlesex. But I think for us, it's a case of defining what our identity is and putting on a show.”

As a final thought, Farbrace focused on how Sussex’s recruitment will aid the side’s general demeanour.

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“The reason for having good experienced people on the field is that it’s where the key decisions are made. We as coaches can't be on the field; we can't be influencing games from the side,” said the 56-year-old.

“There were times last year where I felt in the first session of every Championship game, we did really well but we drifted in the second hour. We got it back after lunch, but it was the same before tea.

“I think now, with our players having a year’s more experience, a year’s more understanding of how we want to play and how we can be competently winning games, I think that's where the senior players are worth their weight in gold.”

Probable XI vs Northants: Haines, Clark, Alsop, Carter, Coles, Simpson (C, WK), Hudson-Prentice, Carson, Robinson, Karvelas, Seales.

Will Hugall’s season prediction for Sussex

County Championship Division Two – 3rd

One-Day Cup – 5th in Group B

T20 Blast – 5th in South Group

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