Bruce on the Boundary – The chase for places is on

Ben Brown admits some good players are going to be disappointed when he names the Sussex side to face Leicestershire in their Specsavers County Championship opener at Hove tomorrow (Friday 5 April).

Apart from Jofra Archer, who is playing in the Indian Premier League (IPL), skipper Brown has a full-strength squad to choose from, his options having increased earlier this week when Pakistan’s highly-skilled left-arm seamer Mir Hamza arrived ahead of schedule.

Last season’s leading wicket-taker Ollie Robinson is fit after recovering from hip surgery last October and South African batsman Stiaan van Zyl is also ready to go after a knee problem wrecked his second season at the club.

Brown said: “Selection-wise it’s a great place to be. Last season we didn’t quite have that depth in the squad to sustain a challenge over a long summer in three formats. You need people to be knocking on your door and asking ‘why am I not playing?’

“There is really healthy competition and the guys who are chosen know that if they aren’t performing there are others ready to come in and take their place.

“We play nine weeks in a row after the Royal London One-Day Cup and that’s when we will need our youngsters, especially bowlers, banging the door down – players like George Garton and Abi Sakande. We will need to rotate and everyone will need to be ready at some stage to perform.”

Brown was a strong critic of some of the pitches he encountered last season, particularly away from Hove, but he expects a better-balanced contest between bat and ball this season. Teams are once again allowed to use the heavy roller between innings and the Dukes ball, which is being used in the County Championship, has a slightly flatter seam.

He added: “I thought it was extremely tough for batsman last year. If you are a top order batsman who averaged 30 or so then I think you had a good season. We threw quite a few youngsters in last year – Phil Salt, Tom Haines, Harry Finch – and with a year’s experience under their belt and the change in regulations it should be a bit easier for batsmen. Initially at least, those players here deserved to be backed.

“I’m certainly expecting cricket in the middle of the season to be more like four-day cricket should be – a good contest between bat and ball.”

Brown admits there won’t be a better year to get back into Division One with three teams being promoted. If the experts are to be believed, the trio will come from Sussex, Middlesex and relegated pair Lancashire and Worcestershire.

“Expectation will be high,” added Brown. “Everyone outside the camp will focus on that but my job is to make sure we play consistent cricket as we did last year. It will be a tough division but we should be in the hunt again.”

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