Why isn't it a case of 'Hove sweet home' for Sussex in T20 cricket?

Sussex Sharks walk out for Vitality Blast action at Hove <i>(Image: Eva Gilbert/SCCC)</i>
Sussex Sharks walk out for Vitality Blast action at Hove (Image: Eva Gilbert/SCCC)

Dan Hughes has quickly grown to appreciate the quirks and qualities which make Hove a special place to play cricket.

He enjoys the wicket and fast outfield and has an eye on the short boundary.

But he is not yet able to answer the question as to why Sussex have not turned the place into a fortress. He is not alone.

There should really be some home advantage. And head coach Paul Farbrace and his coaching staff have tried to make it so.

They have looked to harness different aspects of the 1st Central County Ground.

There is the appreciable slope, the quick-drying outfield, often an inviting boundary away to the east side made even more tempting by the prevailing westerly wind, the tricky sightlines for fielders looking towards the old pavilion.

Okay, that should not make the home side invincible. But it should make visitors as uncomfortable as they were, for example, playing football at the now demolished Dell in Southampton or rugby at Kingsholm or the old Stradey Park.

Danny Lamb has also spoken about trying to harness Hove’s special features.

He did not want to go into details but some, such as ramping downhill rather hitting against the contours, have been pretty obvious watching games this year.

And yet the records suggest we get to enjoy many of Sussex’s finest T20 outings from afar via the popular livestream and radio commentaries.

Then, back at home, it feels like something of a disappointment at times.

That was the case against Surrey and Glamorgan in recent weeks.

Sussex’s won-lost away record this year reads 4-1 compared to 2-2 at Hove.

Last season, Sussex were 1-6 at Hove and 5-2 away.

Even going back to the 2018 campaign, when a powerful side reached and should have won the Edgbaston final, they lost their first three completed home games.

Qualification for the knockout stages was in doubt until, in the final week of the group stage, they suddenly put Glamorgan to the sword by the sea in a memorable Sky game, then beat Middlesex to reach the quarter-finals.

Sussex have established a good run of home form in the Championship dating back to the later stages of last season.

And, let’s be clear, the crowds always seem to enjoy T20, whatever the result. But it is better when they win.

Having tamed such stages as the big London venues, the West Country or rowdy Chelmsford on a Friday night, home form is hit-and-miss in the shortest format.

Hughes, who looks like he enjoys his surroundings, said: “I think the advantages here are that it’s a nice wicket, it’s a fast outfield, there’s a short side there.

“The teams that adapt to that the quickest normally win the games here.

“As a batter, when you get in, you have got to cash in here because the outfield is so fast and there is normally a short end.

“You have got to pick and choose which bowlers you go after.”

So why have Sussex seemed to fare better on their travels?

Hughes replied: “Yes, the boys have said that but I think we have been a little bit better here this year.

“We are trying to work it out but that’s just the way it is.

“That’s the way it goes sometimes. We will have a re-think about what we did (in defeat by Glamorgan on Friday) in the powerplay and in the field and then we will be ready to go on Wednesday.”

That next test comes around tonight when Sussex take on Hampshire (7pm), the only side they beat at Hove last season.

While Sharks remain second in the table, the quest for qualification has become incredibly tight.

After tonight, all counties will have four games left.

Sussex are currently second on 12 points, one clear of Somerset, Essex and Gloucestershire.

Glamorgan are on nine and Hampshire will join them if they win tonight.

Sussex go to Kent on Friday and host Essex on Saturday afternoon.

There is plenty at stake and Hughes is enjoying his debut season on our shores – apart from much of the weather.

His parents were at the Glamorgan game and he said: “They don’t like watching cricket in the cold!

“It’s a summer sport so that was their first experience – and what an experience it was for them.”

As for the English cricket experience as a whole, Hughes told The Argus: “It has been good. The group has been really good, very welcoming.

“There were a couple of red-ball games in between the T20s.

“I missed the first one, played the second one up at Northants and that was a bit of an experience.

“It was a bit of a green wicket on day one but it flattened out.

“The guys are playing some good cricket.

“There is some very good, positive cricket being played at this club.

“The guys have just got to keep a smile on their faces and get up and play the next game.

“We can’t dwell on things too much because they have done some fantastic stuff this year with the help of Farby and Millsy (T20 captain Tymal Mills) and (Championship captain) John Simpson.

“We have just got to keep playing positive cricket.”