In a schedule that hasn’t made sense for years, it comes as no surprise that smack bang in the middle of their Vitality Blast campaign, Sussex must forget about the white ball and concentrate on the red one again tomorrow.
Unbeaten in their first six games in the County Championship – albeit with five draws – Sussex are second in Division Two going into the game against third-placed Worcestershire at Hove.
And the offer of free admission for Sunday’s first day and the prospect of decent weather should attract a good crowd.
But it will be a much-changed team compared to that which signed off before the Blast in a run-fest against Glamorgan three weeks ago – and not necessarily a stronger one.
As was anticipated before the season started, skipper Cheteshwar Pujara is with India this week, playing in the World Test Championship against Australia.
What wasn’t clear when he signed was that India then head to the West Indies from Friday 7 July to Tuesday 15 August.
And although Pujara won’t be involved in the one-day element of that tour, there are two Test matches in July so he will miss Sussex’s next four Championship games.
Pujara should be back for at least some of the Royal London One-Day Cup, which takes up most of August, but his next four-day game is likely to be the potentially pivotal trip to current leaders Durham on Sunday 3 September. His runs and understated leadership skills will be a big loss.
There will be no Steve Smith either, now the Australian’s three-match stint has ended. But potentially the biggest loss is opening bat Ali Orr who looks to be out for several weeks with a knee injury sustained in the Blast game against Surrey.
Realistically, Orr’s next Championship game is likely to be the same as Pujara’s, if not later. Orr hasn’t set the world alight so far this season with no fifty in his first nine innings but he has become a settled and reassuring presence at the top of the order and would have backed himself to come good. Tom Clark is his natural replacement to open with Tom Haines.
In Pujara’s absence, Sussex have recruited the New Zealander Henry Shipley as their second overseas player with Nathan McAndrew. A right-arm seamer, he has 13 ODI caps, the most recent against Sri Lanka in March.
In the game at his home ground at Eden Park in Auckland during that series he took 5 for 31, all his victims in Sri Lanka’s top seven. Time will tell but it could be a very shrewd short-term signing.
Head coach Paul Farbrace publicly thanked New Zealand Cricket for their assistance in making it happen which suggests the Kiwis see it as an opportunity to give Shipley more experience of red-ball cricket, possibly with a view to eventually integrating the 27-year-old into their Test team. It will have been to Sussex’s benefit if that’s how things work out.
In Pujara’s absence Tom Alsop will captain the side and the make up of the team will be interesting. Jack Carson and James Coles could offer a double spin threat and Dan Ibrahim might get an opportunity.
But after the three Toms – Clark, Haines and Alsop – at the top of the order, who follows with the bat is anyone’s guess.
Sussex’s odds to win the Vitality Blast before a ball was bowled were 33-1 and they won’t have shortened after the first eight games.
Winning the second match against Surrey at The Oval was an unexpected surprise and they showed plenty of spirit in chasing a tricky total on a testing pitch against a good attack. But since then there have been five defeats out of six and little to commend in the performances.
Farbrace lambasted the batters after the 25-run loss to Essex then skipper Ravi Bopara didn’t take part in the 10-wicket defeat to Hampshire after he was delayed by a crash on the M27.
Perplexed Sussex fans were entitled to wonder why Bopara hadn’t travelled with the rest of the team to the Ageas Bowl.
If they’d all been held up, the start of the game would have been delayed. Instead, Sussex had to re-jig their side and go into it without their most experienced batter.
Things didn’t improve the following day when their attack leaked more than 200 runs in the defeat to Glamorgan. Despite beating Middlesex at Lord’s, the comprehensive defeat in the return fixture with Surrey at Hove last night show that Sussex’s race could be run even before the tournament goes into its hiatus for a week or so.
It takes a while to build a strong, competitive squad in any format. Before reaching the knockouts for four successive seasons from 2018-21, Sussex didn’t make it beyond the group stage for four of the previous five T20 tournaments.
This team, even at its strongest, lacks top-order muscle and the marquee players who can bend a game to their will in the way that Luke Wright, Phil Salt, Chris Jordan, David Wiese and, in his first few seasons at least, Rashid Khan was able to do.
So there should be no shame during the second half of the Blast in Farbrace and white-ball coach James Kirtley trying different combinations to find a winning blend, with a view to next season’s tournament.
It’s not as if this approach will have much effect on attendances at Hove, with the game against Surrey last night sold out in advance.
For the casual Sussex cricket fan, the result of a T20 game is not the be all and end all. If he or she sees the ball disappearing into the stands, bowlers spreadeagling the coloured stumps while the sun shines, the beer and wine flows and the kids enjoy a knock-up on the outfield afterwards, they will consider it money well spent.
Let coaches and players worry about the performances and making sure – as Farbrace and co need to do this week – that there is no hangover from bad results in one competition affecting the progress they have made in another.
Follow Bruce Talbot on Twitter @brucetalbot1.