Taking charge for the first time, T20 Head Coach James Kirtley has named a 14-man squad for Sussex Sharks’ opening two matches in this year’s Vitality Blast. The Sharks travel to Bristol for Friday’s match against Gloucestershire, before returning to The 1st Central County Ground for Saturday’s fixture under floodlights against Hampshire Hawks.
In the squad is 16-year-old leg spinner, Archie Lenham, who, if he plays, would become the second youngest player in Blast history after Hamidullah Qadri for Derbyshire in 2017. “It’s great for Archie,” Kirtley says. “He’s another of our young players who has impressed, and he has been one of our top spinners during our preparation.
“We’ve always got an eye on the future, but Archie’s promotion to the squad has come a bit sooner than expected. He’s delivered, however. Luke [Wright] and I are very comfortable with Archie in and around the team and he’s given himself the chance of playing.”
If the Bede’s School pupil does make his Sussex debut, he will be following in the footsteps of his father Neil and grandfather Les. “It will be hugely exciting for him and probably also for his family,” Kirtley adds. “There aren’t many [families] that can boast three generations of professional cricketers.”
As Archie - as well as Oli Carter & Henry Crocombe, who are also named in the squad - look ahead to a possible debut, the rest of the Sharks squad for these matches boast 1,676 professional T20 appearances between them.
Kirtley has been impressed by what he has seen from his seasoned pros in the build up to the tournament. “The skill level of these players I’ve been watching in our practices and warm-up matches is just brilliant. Watching Chris Jordan or Tymal Mills running in at batsmen or David Wiese or Ravi Bopara clearing the boundary has been hugely exciting and hugely entertaining and it will be brilliant for everyone coming to the games to get to see it as well.”
Jordan is in line for his first team appearance of the season, as is Phil Salt who has recovered from a foot injury. “We’ve given Salty a clear route back to cricket with a focus on T20, which has worked well for him,” Kirtley continues. “He’s really excited to put in a big performance early in the campaign.”
Alongside the rest of the squad, Salt’s preparations for the Blast have centred Sussex’s matches in the Second XI T20 competition. Apart from an abandonment against Essex, Sussex have won all their matches, often against opposition also packed full of first team regulars. “We’ve come up against challenging opposition and we’ve been winning,” Kirtley explains. “I’ve told the group that we shouldn’t underestimate that and the value of the momentum and belief you get from winning. We’ve been winning with almost every single person that’s played putting in a performance at some point.”
Contributions will be needed from those outside the initial 14-man squad as well, Kirtley and his captain, Luke Wright, believe. “Luke spoke to the team on Tuesday morning and said, ‘if we’re going to win this tournament, we’re going to need the full squad’,” Kirley reveals. “It’s not just about the 14 players named for these opening games and I’m sure there will be people who aren’t in this squad that will play a part later in the competition. It’s hugely exciting to know we’ve got the calibre of players on our staff that can come in and make a difference.”
Turning his attention to Sussex’s opponents in their opening two matches, Kirtley says, “We’ve got some clear ideas for the game against Gloucestershire. We’ve got to deliver there first, and then we come back to Hove for the duel with Hampshire.
“There’s fine cricketers across the country and the Blast is a very good competition. Hopefully, we can steal a march early in the campaign and gain some momentum. It will be huge for a number of our players to play in front of crowds again and get back to entertaining.”
As explained in an earlier club statement, Ollie Robinson was unavailable for selection for these two fixtures. Overseas player, Rashid Khan, is currently playing in the Pakistan Super League and will join Sussex Sharks after his involvement in the tournament ends.
Luke Wright (captain), Will Beer, Ravi Bopara, Oli Carter, Henry Crocombe George Garton, Travis Head (overseas, Australia), Chris Jordan, Archie Lenham, Tymal Mills, Delray Rawlins, Phil Salt, Aaron Thomason, David Wiese (overseas, South Africa)
Gloucestershire will expect another strong campaign having become one of the most consistent T20 sides of the past few years. Four times in the last five seasons they have qualified for the quarter-finals and in 2020 finally overcame their knockout hoodoo by destroying Northamptonshire and earning a place at Finals Day for the first time since 2007. It wasn’t the return to Edgbaston they envisaged, losing a crucial toss and being comfortably beaten by Surrey, and no doubt there will be a feeling of unfinished business to prove they belong on county cricket’s glitziest stage. Gloucestershire begin their campaign against Glamorgan at Sophia Gardens on Thursday afternoon.
Squad for match against Glamorgan: Jack Taylor (captain), Ian Cockbain, Chris Dent, Miles Hammond, George Hankins, Ryan Higgins, Benny Howell, David Payne, Glenn Phillips (overseas, New Zealand), George Scott, Josh Shaw, Tom Smith, Matt Taylor, Graeme van Buuren
After a bitterly disappointing 2020 season that produced just two wins from 10 matches and a last-placed group finish, the rebranded Hawks will be confident of a much-improved campaign as they look to win a third Blast title. Among their overseas players, big-hitting opener D’Arcy Short should deliver runs at the top of the order and – when he joins after New Zealand’s World Test Championship Final against India - canny all-rounder Colin de Grandhomme control and accuracy with the ball. With Mason Crane, James Vince, James Fuller and Liam Dawson in their ranks, few teams boast a more balanced squad. Their campaign started with a 38-run defeat to Kent Spitfires on Wednesday evening, however. Leg-spinner Crane was the pick of the Hawks’ bowlers, taking 3 for 23 from his four overs. Short, Vince and Joe Weatherley all made starts in Hampshire’s chase of 177 but were unable to go on to play a match-winning innings. The team are back in action against Essex Eagles at Canterbury on Friday evening.
Squad: James Vince (captain), Kyle Abbot, Tom Alsop, Mason Crane, Liam Dawson, James Fuller, Ian Holland, Lewis McManus, Sam Northeast, Tom Prest, D'Arcy Short (overseas, Australia), Ryan Stevenson, Joe Weatherley, Brad Wheal, Chris Wood,
Friday’s match against Gloucestershire takes place at The Bristol County Ground, with a scheduled start time of 6.30pm. A live stream of the match will be available on the Sussex Cricket Match Centre, alongside a video scorecard and live statistics.
Saturday’s fixture against Hampshire Hawks at The 1st Central County Ground is scheduled to begin at 7pm. Tickets are available online only until gates open at 5.30pm on Saturday. There will be no on-the-day gate sales or collections.
If you are coming to the match, please read this important information for spectators.
As Saturday’s game is being televised, no live stream will be available. The Sussex Cricket Match Centre will still contain a live scorecard and live statistics.
Sussex Sharks suffered a third successive washout in the Vitality Blast when their South Group game against Glamorgan at The 1st Central County Ground was abandoned 90 minutes before the scheduled 7pm start.<
Sussex's Freya Davies is part of a 16-strong squad for England Women's Royal London Series against India.