I have always been a ‘Sussex man’. In part this identity was formed around a schoolboy support of Sussex CCC. The county team in the Dexter-Parks era used to play two matches in Worthing. Three memories from these festivals pop into my mind: fast-medium pacer Ian Thompson taking all 10 wickets; a run out, with Dexter whipping the ball to Parks behind the stumps; and (the Rev) David Sheppard, later Bishop of Liverpool, patiently signing autographs for an extraordinarily long queue of we adolescents until all was done. Less specific reflections: why was Ken Suttle never capped by England (he came close)? I visited Hove on several occasions too. Oh, and I got Gary Sobers’ autograph when the visiting West Indian tourists played a Duke of Norfolk XI at the wonderful Arundel ground.
What is this fragment about? Well, Sussex won their first county championship in 2003, and I was there! But there is a preliminary or two. Sussex CCC was the pioneering first-class county, formed in 1839. It has used four grounds in and around Brighton and Hove (Hove is the posh neighbourhood). The earliest matches were played on a ground – The Prince of Wales Ground – wait for it, donated by the Prince of Wales (close by Park Crescent). The second location, Temple Fields, coincides with Montpelier Crescent. The third pitch, the Royal Brunswick Ground, is now Third and Fourth Avenues. And the fourth, and today’s, pitch can be found at Eaton Road, which was acquired from the Trustees of the Stanford Estate in 1871 (the turf was actually transferred from the Royal Brunswick Ground and re-laid). The first county match was played here on 6 June 1872.
In my schoolboy era Dexter and Parks were the stars, ideally equipped for one-day cricket and Sussex excelled in its early and experimental days, tasting success in the Gillette Cup in 1963 and 1964, and following up with further limited over wins in 1978 and 1986. Batsman-wicketkeeper Parks was my schoolboy favourite, not least for his carefree batting. As one journalist put it, he epitomized much that was appealing about idyllic ‘sunny’ cricketing seasons. His was the first name I looked for on the daily county scorecards that only my father’s Daily Telegraph reported in full. From memory he averaged 32 for England in something like 43 tests, and 34 for Sussex (and latterly Somerset). He was actually a converted cover point, where he excelled. His selection for England over specialist keeper John Murray from Middlesex, a decent batsman in his own right, occasioned long running disputes between commentators and journalists. Dennis Compton, writing in my mother’s Sunday Express, was especially scathing about Parks; but then he used to play for Middlesex!
Old friend Ken Reeves suggested driving us down to Hove to see Sussex versus Leicestershire (his team, and part of his identity) on a dry September day in 2003. From memory, we were accompanied by his daughter, Gabrielle, and her boyfriend, Russell. What a day, the crucial one. I have the scorecard in front of me and am seriously tempted to reproduce it. But I won’t. Instead I will précis events for as long as I can contain myself.
Leicester won the toss and batted. They were all out for 179, with Sussex spinner Mushtaq Ahmed (‘Mushy’) taking 4 for 71 off 24.5 overs. I was there to witness the Sussex reply, one that was to secure sufficient batting points to clinch the title of county champions. It was no ordinary innings. Montgomery was dismissed early for 10 (24-1). Cottey and Goodwin then put on 127 before the former was out, caught Nixon bowled deFreitas, for 56 (151-2). That brought Goodwin and Adams, the captain, together, and they put on 267. Goodwin ended the day on 335 not out while Adams was eventually dismissed for 102. Ambrose, at the time Matt Prior’s rival as wicket keeper, made 82.
When the championship was secured, a band from Christ’s Hospital (don’t forget that I scored the winning try against them for Worthing High School under 15s) ponderously circled the circumference of the pitch playing ‘Sussex by the Sea’. Odd, provincial and privileged but somehow or other appropriate. It was a pinnacle reached largely by virtue of two overseas Sussex acquisitions: the incomparable Mushy and Murray Goodwin. The 2003 success proved the trigger for Sussex’s optimal decade. They went on to reclaim the county championship in 2006 (in which year they also won the C&G trophy) and 2007. They also won the Pro40 League in 2008 and 2009, the latter inspiring them to a first T20 title.
I follow Sussex still and have for many years now intended to drive down to Hove to watch them. I would have to find the ground of course, and it is well hidden. When Ken drove us down back in 2003 he parked close by and picked up a parking ticket (which he insisted on paying himself); neither of us had realized it was a restricted zone. Last time I went under my own steam it was for an evening game, and John Snow, best fast bowler of his generation and poetical son of a vicar, opened the batting in a limited over contest. For the last few years I have only managed one day of first class cricket per annum, watching England versus assorted opponents at the Kensington Oval, courtesy of another old friend and now member of Surrey CCC, Mike Roshier.
Ken, Mike, Bill Tallis and I played badminton on Monday evenings for many a decade. But that’s for another fragment.