Sussex celebrate their County Championship triumph during play

Sussex's celebrations are a go at the end of the match

© Getty Images

The oldest county makes its mark

When a Murray Goodwin boundary sealed Sussex's maiden County Championship title, the County Ground at Hove went into party mode mid-match

Interviews by Crispin Andrews |

On 18th September 2003, Sussex, England's oldest county, finally won their first County Championship. One hundred and sixty four years after the club was founded, Chris Adams' team succeeded where sides containing the likes of CB Fry, Ranjitsinhji, Ted Dexter, John Snow, Tony Greig and Imran Khan had failed.

The County Ground at Hove was packed, Leicestershire were the visitors, and Sussex supporters waited for their team to make history.

Peter Moores, Sussex head coach: There was the usual mixture of excitement and worry before the start of the game. You worry about whether you're going to play how you've played throughout the season and get over the line. You're at home and the dominant team. But you've still got to do it.

Murray Goodwin, Sussex opening batsman: We had a fair bit of belief. A few match-winners. It was a well-balanced team.

Moores: We had a good mix of senior players and youth, with a good captain in Chris Adams, who led from the front. We were getting to the point where we were expecting to win tight games when we were under pressure.

Goodwin: We had lost our penultimate game against Lancashire, one of our nearest rivals, but we knew that in the last game we needed just four points to make certain that we would win the Championship.

Moores: There's always that feeling at the back of your mind that if we don't win it now, we'll have absolutely choked. So that worry's there during the build-up to the game. You can put that to the back of your mind like sportsmen do. Just relax, go out and play.

"There was the usual mixture of excitement and worry. You worry about whether you're going to play how you've played throughout the season and get over the line" Peter Moores

Leicestershire won the toss and decided to bat.

Goodwin: When the pressure was on, our bowlers stood up.

Paul Nixon, Leicestershire wicketkeeper: It was a partisan atmosphere. Sussex were flying high, full of confidence, and we were at a low point.

Moores: Those first two sessions when we bowled them out [for 179 in under 70 overs] and started collecting the points we needed. That's when you start to relax for a little bit.

Goodwin: We had a really good bowling attack. Mushy [Mushtaq Ahmed] was doing tremendous things. Jason Lewry and James Kirtley were successful as the opening pair (although Kirtley was out injured for this game). Robin Martin-Jenkins did well as a back-up seamer and Mark Davis was a very handy second spinner.

Moores: Mushtaq Ahmed was the X factor. He had come to Sussex at the perfect time. He had played international cricket, gone through some tough times, had a point to prove, and just wanted to play. Every day, he would say to me "I love the game. I just want to play."

Mushtaq Ahmed picked up four wickets in Leicestershire's first innings

Mushtaq Ahmed picked up four wickets in Leicestershire's first innings © Getty Images

Nixon: Mushy was class. The ironic thing is that Leicestershire had a chance of signing him at the start of the year and they decided not to. Then he went down there and got a hundred wickets. So hard to pick - change of pace, accuracy...

Moores: We were a good team before we signed Mushtaq, in that we had learned how to work very hard, how to want to get better every day and enjoy the ups and downs of sport and be able to keep moving. And then you sign a player like Mushtaq, who gives you another way of accelerating a four-day game. Sometimes, in four days there's not enough time and you need a top-class spinner to move things along.

Sussex openers Goodwin and Richard Montgomerie walked out needing 300 to secure the bonus points that would win the Championship.

Goodwin: I said in the dressing room before we went out that all us batters must have the attitude that we would be there to get those runs. With that attitude we would become champions.

Montgomerie made only 10, but early on the second morning, when Adams joined Goodwin, Sussex needed only 150 runs with eight wickets remaining, to make history.

Moores: There was this lull at lunchtime, where we knew we were going to knock the runs off after lunch. The ground was strangely quiet in anticipation of what was going to happen. It kept filling up as more people found out we were going to win it. That was nice, because it extended it a bit, we had to wait for it. One bloke told me that he'd been coming forever and his dad had come before him, and it was going to be a great moment.

"The game stopped [...] It was all surreal to me - celebrating in the middle of the game, rather than waiting until the game was complete" Murray Goodwin

Nixon: They were in a great mental space. Full of confidence. Never looked like they'd not get there. Giving each other high fives at the wicket, punching gloves, the body language, the loudness of the calling. The atmosphere was fantastic, the crowd buzzing. They were celebrating every boundary, every run.

Then the moment came. Goodwin hit Phil DeFreitas for four.

Chris Adams, Sussex captain: I was at the non-striker's end. A first ever Championship. That moment only ever happens once. To be part of it, and to be out there in the middle and watch the scenes for the next 15 to 20 minutes as the team came out, the whole squad, did a lap of honour… just fantastic.

Goodwin: The game stopped. Phil DeFreitas, the Leicestershire captain, was a gentleman, said "No worries." It was obviously the first time ever for Sussex, being the oldest county. It was all surreal to me - celebrating in the middle of the game, rather than waiting until the game was complete.

I was a bit embarrassed. I was thinking about the Leicestershire boys and how we would feel if we were in their shoes.

Adams: Sussex chairman Jim Parks brought out the champagne and the whole ground embraced a wonderful and incredible moment. It's tough to beat that. Makes sense of what we're doing and what we're there for.

David Masters, Leicestershire bowler: It was bizarre. I thought: "Can't they do this at the end?" But emotions were running high. They looked like they had it all prepared.

Adams gives Goodwin a pat on the head after the four that sealed the deal

Adams gives Goodwin a pat on the head after the four that sealed the deal © Getty Images

Moores: It just seemed like the right thing to do at the time. The game stopped because the crowd went mad, the players went mad and ran on the pitch. It was nice because it just felt normal, although it was completely not normal to stop the game when it happened. You couldn't just carry on with the game without recognising what had just happened. A club that had been around for the longest time finally getting over the line of what had become a mission for us, to win the County Championship.

Nixon: Having won two championships with Leicestershire, you appreciate the work and the drive and determination it takes to win a championship. It's a massive marathon. You earn the right to celebrate.

Goodwin: It meant so much to so many people. You had people in tears, coming up wanting to give you a hug. They were so grateful, saying "Thank you, thank you." That was really touching. It made their whole supporting life for that club.

Adams: Then everything cleared and the game continued. Soon after, I told Murray that I'd had enough. We've got the points we need, I've got my hundred, so I'm going to play a few shots, see where I get to. A few balls later, I skied one and got caught and was out.

Goodwin: I just kept batting. I wanted to get the team into a position where we could bowl Leicestershire out and not have to bat again.

Masters: Goodwin was always hard to bowl at. This time we never thought we'd get him out. He looked like he could have batted for three days.

Goodwin: When I came in at tea time, I said: "Look, do you guys want to declare?" And Peter Moores and Chris said, "No, carry on." So I thought, okay, beautiful, I'll carry on batting.

"We decided that we were going to celebrate too, the end of a hard season. So we went out and had a few beers. It's important that you still keep your team spirit" Paul Nixon

Adams: This is the point where you distinguish between very good and exceptional. My hundred I would class as very good. Murray Goodwin had the steel, the resolve, the skill and the expertise to go on and score 335.

Goodwin: I didn't know what the Sussex record was. Then someone mentioned it when I called for drinks. They said: "Carry on batting, you're close to the record." [KS Duleepsinjhi had scored 333 against Northamptonshire in 1930.] I broke the record and they declared. That was amazing, and to do it in that particular match. A few years later, I managed to break the record again.

Nixon: One of our guys was ill and had to go off. Murray, on about 80, hit a square cut straight to the sub fielder and he dropped it, quite an easy chance. Just about summed up how things were going for us.

Sussex declared on 614 for 4. Leicestershire needed 435 to avoid an innings defeat.

Masters: We were 38 for 2 overnight. I was nightwatchman on 14 not out.

Nixon: We decided that we were going to celebrate too, the end of a hard season. So we went out and had a few beers. It's important that you still keep your team spirit.

Goodwin made the highest score for a Sussex player - a record that he broke again a few years later

Goodwin made the highest score for a Sussex player - a record that he broke again a few years later © Getty Images

Masters: We did have a few the night before. A team meal turned into quite a late one. It was our last away game of the season and the match had already gone past us. The next day I struggled for the first half hour. But after then things seemed to get easier. Maybe knowing you'd had a few made you concentrate harder. Maybe you were more relaxed.

Nixon: David was probably as ill as he's ever been playing cricket and ended up playing absolutely beautifully and got the most amazing hundred.

It was Masters' career-best score - his only first-class hundred. But it wasn't enough to make Sussex bat again.

Nixon: We ended up on the back end of a good hiding.

The day, though, was all about Sussex.

Adams: When you finally get your mitts on a trophy in front of four or five thousand people, and you see what that means to them, then that to me is what it's all about. It's not about providing a service or giving people something to come and watch and fill their time. For me it's about giving them something to be really proud of.

Goodwin: It was wonderful to be acknowledged by some of these very well-respected past players who had been instrumental in making the club what it is today. Jim Parks, John Barclay, John Snow. Even Tony Greig, during the Indian Cricket League, a few years later, said to me, "Glad to see you guys won that Championship. We tried for ages, so I'm really pleased to see the team get over the line."

"From the start, we weren't just trying to win a championship. We were trying to be the most successful team of the decade" Chris Adams

Moores: The team had been through a journey and had some great friendships and a good mixture - a lot of emerging players. Tim Ambrose and Matt Prior, confident young fellows coming in to try and make their name.

Goodwin: Peter Moores was instrumental getting that team working together. His work ethic was amazing. His passion for the game, the team, the club. The way he went about it, for me, as the overseas player, I found it quite tiring. He was full of energy; sometimes you wanted to relax a little bit. He was brilliant at getting the guys up and ready.

Moores: When it happened, you've done it, and it's not as euphoric in that second. Then it starts to sink in, what you've achieved, all the work that's gone into it, so many people put so much effort in.

Sussex won two more championships, in 2006 and 2007. By 2010, they had won another five trophies.

Adams: From the start, we weren't just trying to win a championship. We were trying to be the most successful team of the decade. We put floodlights in, we changed the net area, we built a new pavilion for the players. Lots of things were moving off the field too.

Moores: That was the first real peak of the team. All those players went on and had very successful careers. Matt Prior became an outstanding player for England. Timmy Ambrose and Chris Adams played for England a little bit. Others went on A tours.

Goodwin: We were very fortunate to be first-class cricketers playing this wonderful game of cricket and getting paid for it.

 

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