A new look for Sharks but Bopara says they can still aim for T20 glory

·4-min read
New skipper Ravi Bopara has high hopes for Sussex Sharks in the Vitality Blast
New skipper Ravi Bopara has high hopes for Sussex Sharks in the Vitality Blast

Ravi Bopara said he did not hesitate when Sussex Sharks asked him to be their Twenty20 captain.

The vastly experienced former Essex all-rounder leads the county for the first time as they kick-off their Vitality Blast campaign versus Glamorgan at Hove tonight (7pm).

Sussex have a strong reputation for reaching the knockout stages in recent years.

They were semi-finalists last season and let slip a great chance to win the final in 2018.

There have been changes to personnel, with Chris Jordan and Phil Salt departing after Finals Day last year, Hopes that Jofra Archer would get a few Blast games over coming weeks have been ruined by the fast bowler’s latest cruel injury setback.

And Luke Wright, the king of Blast run-makers, has decided to relinquish the captaincy.

But Bopara sees enough to suggest Sussex can be back on the big stage again this summer.

He was certainly happy enough take over the captaincy as the obvious candidate when Wright stepped down.

Bopara said: “I didn’t have to give it much thought at all.

“When it was offered to me, I wanted it straight away.

“I think it is important to stress I have inherited a very good white-ball squad that Wrighty and Kirts (coach James Kirtley) and Sussex have put together.

“A big thank you goes to those guys.

“I am really excited to go out and captain this bunch of guys.

“As long as the boys stay fit and strong, we can go for the trophy.”

Bopara recognises talk is cheap before a ball has been bowled.

He added: “I think it is easy for any side or captain or coach to say, ‘We are going for the trophy’.

“Sometimes I think you know you can be confident.

“I think with this squad of players, I can confidently say we can go and win it.”

Sussex have an array of overseas players who will check in and out during the summer.

Australian wicketkeeper-batsman Josh Philippe arrived this week.

In terms of domestic talent, opener Wright and death bowler Tymal Mills will be important pillars of the side.

Bopara himself had a slightly underwhelming debut year for Sussex in what is thought of as his specialist competition back in 2020.

But that was a very strange year, playing into the autumn and before empty stands in a first season after what seemed like a lifetime with Essex.

Sussex saw the true Bopara last year as he was their leading run-maker apart from the old firm of Wright and Salt at the top of the order.

His 259 runs came at 32s and a strike rate of 122.

An economy rate with the ball of 7.08 was the best of any Sussex bowler who delivered a significant number of overs.

Clearly Sussex have lost some big T20 names in recent years.

They are players who fans hope to see when they decide whether to part with ticket money.

The departure of Salt and Jordan was tough to take for supporters but Sussex insist that need not spell the end of an era.

Kirtley said: “I think you have to be respectful of Chris and Phil.

“You don’t replace players like that but you look to recruit as wisely as you can.

“We have Mohammad Rizwan and Josh Philippe, who has been an outstanding performer in the Big Bash.

“We have the influence of Steven Finn, with vast experience for Middlesex.

“We have Fynn Hudson-Prentice and these things didn’t happen by accident.

“There is the due diligence which goes around.

“We are trying to provide those areas of succession.

“But we are not going to make knee-jerk reactions and recruit just to fill a gap.”

Rashid Khan will be as popular as ever and there will be a lot of excitement over his young fellow-spinner Archie Lenham in his second season.

Lenham was one of three Sussex players to take 11 Blast wickets last season, behind only Mills on 17.

Sussex have been treading carefully with George Garton in his recovery from long Covid.

But they will hope he is able to play a big part in all aspects in the short format.

Will Beer is a perennially reliable contributor to T20 and he has been keeping his eye in with runs and wickets for Horsham after being offered only a white-ball contract with the county this season.

As for Bopara, he has not written himself off in other formats.

He said: “At the moment, I’m contracted for white-ball cricket.

“I haven’t totally forgotten about red-ball cricket.

“I still have those feelings of batting longer.

“When you are 60-odd not out and you are watching the bowlers toil after tea, that’s a great feeling.”

For now, though, it is all about the short game – and a desire to go a long way.

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