Cricket was played in Sussex from the c17th and in the following century there are records of games being played between teams of gentlemen from Kent and Sussex, as well as games between neighbouring villages. By the end of the century, royalty in the form of the Prince Regent was taking an interest in cricket in Brighton. The future George IV even presented local cricketers with a ground, the Royal Ground, on the site of the current Level. Once on the throne though, George took less interest in cricket and the cricket ground was closed. In 1822, a local businessman, James Ireland, purchased ten acres of land north of where the Royal Ground had been sited and then built a series of pleasure gardens which included a cricket ground. When Sussex CC was founded in 1839 it played its games at Ireland’s Gardens until they in turn were closed down so that the site could be developed for housing.
The formation of the club
Sussex CC is generally held to have been formed when the Rev. George Langdon, the first secretary, sent out a circular to invite a number of gentlemen to a meeting to adopt a set of rules for the new club. The Brighton Gazette reported on the first meeting of the club at Pegg’s Hotel on 4th April, saying that ‘’We hail with pleasure the formation of a club on so respectable a footing for the promotion of this truly English game.’’
In 1848, following the closure of Ireland’s Gardens, the club moved to a ground by the sea at Hove. The ground was called the Brunswick Ground and was the home of Sussex until it in turn closed in 1871 and the club moved to its current location in Eaton Road.
At this time prominent players for the club were Henry Phillips, said to be the first wicket-keeper to dispense with a long stop, and Walter Humphreys, one of the last of the lob bowlers. Just before the turn of the century, Sussex entered the so-called Golden Era when the club could call upon players like Sir Aubrey Smith, later a Hollywood star, CB Fry, perhaps the greatest sporting all-rounder, and K.S.Ranjitsinhji, the future Prince of Nawanagar, whose batting exploits put thousands on the gate. Despite the batting talent at its disposal Sussex did not win the County Championship.
Superb batting displays but no championship
Having a proliferation of excellent batsmen was a characteristic well into the 20th century as Sussex continued to fail to win the Championship. The likes of Ted Bowley, Duleepsinhji, Jim and Harry Parks, John and James Langridge, George Cox jun and then David Sheppard, Ted Dexter, Jim Parks jun all delighted Hove crowds with their batting but took home no County Championship titles and even going into the late c20th, Tony Greig, Imran Khan, Paul Parker, Alan Wells excelled with the bat but there wasn’t the bowling to back them up.
Of course, there were good bowlers but there never seemed to be the consistency to get the team over the line. Albert Relf and George Cox senior were good bowlers during the Golden Era of the late c19th, and Maurice Tate and his captain Arthur Gilligan made a potent attack during the 1920s. The club were getting close to winning the championship in the 1930s, and in 1934 Sussex seemed to be odds on favourites to win the championship but fell away badly at the end of the season although only two games were lost. Illness, injury and loss of form robbed the team of crucial players at critical times.
A change in fortune
The change in fortune was to eventually come, right at the end of the century. In 1998 Chris Adams was signed from Derbyshire and Michael Bevan, a talented Australian, also joined. In 1999 Sussex just failed to win the elusive County Championship but hopes of continued improvement were shattered when in 2000 the club finished bottom of both main competitions and were relegated to Division Two.
Promotion from Division Two was rapid and once back in Division One the club entered an era, the like of which had not been witnessed before. In 2003 the club eventually won the County Championship and then dominated the English game for the next six years in what could be termed ‘The Glory Years’.
The Championship was won again in 2006 when Sussex did the double by also winning the C&G trophy. The Championship was won again in 2007 when in a nail biting finish which went to the last day of the season, Sussex defeated Worcestershire and then had to wait for the result of the game in which title rivals Lancashire narrowly failed to defeat Surrey.
There were further One Day Cup wins in 2008 and 2009 and a win in the Twenty 20 Cup in 2009.
As well as the men achieving glory, Sussex Women played their part in bringing success to the County Ground winning the County Championship in 2003 for the first time, just like the men. The team which included a number of English internationals, went on to win the Championship again in 2004, 2005, 2008, 2010 and 2013. Amongst the players who contributed to this success were England players Rosalie Birch, Holly Colvin, Sarah Taylor, Laura Marsh and Charlie Russell.