The seagulls perched on Hove’s deckchairs are the quintessence of county cricket but there has been nothing much to squawk about on the south coast of late. Sussex won three County Championship titles and four major white-ball trophies between 2003 and 2009, but across the last three years have endured one of the more tumultuous periods in their 183-year history.

A policy of austerity prompted by the financial challenges of Covid led to an exodus of senior players and results suffered, with three first-class wins across three summers. With the squad diverging across formats, they have used more players (53) than any other county in that time and a run to the semi-finals of the Royal London Cup last year could not mask a sense of drift.

By the end of the 2022 season, things had come to a head. Ian Salisbury, the coach of the Championship and 50-over sides, left his role after an off-field dispute with Jack Carson, the promising young spinner, and the club informed James Kirtley, who had spent two years in charge of the T20 side, that they would be advertising for a new head coach to lead them across formats.

For some time, it seemed as though the race for the job was between Ryan Campbell, the outgoing Netherlands coach, and Grant Flower, the club’s highly regarded batting coach. Campbell was offered the job but when he turned it down, heading to Durham instead, Paul Farbrace emerged as a candidate having stepped down as Warwickshire’s director of cricket.

After several conversations, he applied for the role and was appointed last week. Farbrace has been handed full responsibility for men’s cricket – Keith Greenfield, the club’s long-serving performance director, has been shifted sideways to a pathway role – meaning he is effectively doing a job that had been split between three people over the last 24 months.

Farbrace has spoken to various franchise teams and counties since leaving Edgbaston in September and retains a two-year contract with Sharjah Warriors in the ILT20, but said at his unveiling at Hove on Tuesday that he was relishing the chance to help a talented crop of young players flourish, with the ultimate aim of bringing tangible success back to the club.

“The idea of getting really stuck into a project appealed to me,” he said. “There’s an anticipation when you have so many talented young players. Are we going to be able to get the best out of them? There’s a nervous excitement. It’s a fantastic opportunity to be involved and drive the club towards success.”

Rob Andrew, Sussex’s chief executive, has not been universally popular among supporters but defended the club’s recent decision-making and said he was “absolutely delighted” with Farbrace’s appointment. “We’ve had a challenging few years for lots of reasons,” he said, “but we’ve always felt that the decisions we took were the right ones for the club in the long term.

“People sometimes forget how difficult the last three years have been. We saw an opportunity a couple of years ago to protect the club financially and… to build something really special with a group of players who have grown up together. Everyone has worked hard under difficult circumstances to get us to this point. It has been tough. I’ve acknowledged that all the way through. The excitement we can build going forward, I hope people can see that.”

Along with Carson, Tom Haines was part of England Lions’ training group last month while four more are in the UAE with the Under-19s, but Farbrace stressed his view that the club’s ambitions should not be restricted to developing young players. “I will make no apology for talking about winning at every opportunity that I can,” he said.

“I’ve come here to win: I love winning and I hate losing. It’s easy to talk about competing, development and young players and to make excuses; to hide behind ‘they’re going to need time’ and all that sort of stuff. There’s enough ability in this squad to start challenging to win games of cricket and to win trophies, and that’s what we’re here for.”

Sussex have already signed Cheteshwar Pujara – who should be available for the majority of the season after opting out of the IPL auction – for Championship and 50-over cricket, while Jayden Seales is under contract for the first three months. A second overseas player for the Blast will be among Farbrace’s early priorities, as well as convincing those who are out of contract at the end of 2023 to sign extensions.

Farbrace has previously pitched himself as a candidate for one of the vacant head coach positions in the Hundred, but confirmed he would spend August at Hove rather than working as an assistant coach elsewhere. “I’ll be involved with the 50-over team,” he said. “It gets a lot of stick, but I think it’s a brilliant competition.”

Luke Wright, who announced his retirement to take up a new role as an England selector last month, is the latest senior player to leave but Farbrace will hope that the likes of Ollie Robinson (his step-son), Tom Alsop, George Garton and Steven Finn can act as leaders across formats, while Tymal Mills and Ravi Bopara fill similar roles in the T20 side.

“We have to make sure that we get the right senior players and overseas players around them as well,” he said. “Players learn from players. Our job as coaches is to facilitate that learning. If you have really good senior players around the youngsters, you will grow their development even quicker. The potential is huge.

“Around every successful team, your senior players play a key role. The danger of having lots of good young players is that they know they’re playing and that there isn’t a battle to get into the team; and they haven’t got senior players around them to support them and are really reliant on the coaches to do that.”

Major redevelopments are underway at Hove, with work in progress on luxury apartments on the south-west corner of the ground. The club have recorded small profits in the last three years despite the challenges of the pandemic, and Andrew said that they were well-placed to navigate the ongoing inflation surge in the UK.

“We’re in a really good, solid financial position,” he said. “In some ways, I’m even more pleased that we made the decisions we did two or three years ago, knowing what we now know and what we’re likely to face. We’re very positive about the future of this club. We want everyone in the club to be excited: there has had to be some patience over the last couple of years and sports supporters don’t necessarily have a huge amount of that. But I think we can see a way forward.”

When asked for his message to Sussex’s supporters, Andrew said: “Be positive, if you’re real fans of this club.” Those who have kept faith through the gloom will hope that Farbrace’s appointment gives them reason to.

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98


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