Sussex Sharks skipper Luke Wright believes the standard in this season’s Vitality Blast will be better than ever.
Last year’s beaten finalists begin their 2019 campaign against Hampshire at the Ageas Bowl on Friday before entertaining their south-coast rivals at Hove next Wednesday in the first of their seven home games.
Despite the likely absence of Jofra Archer for the whole tournament and injury concerns over Danny Briggs and Chris Jordan, Sussex appear to be in good shape and Wright knows they will need to be to emulate last season’s achievement.
Afghanistan leg-spinner Rashid Khan, who made such an impact last season with 17 wickets at 14.35 in 11 appearances, will be available for 10 games this season.
And Australian wicketkeeper-batsman Alex Carey is another exciting overseas addition. Carey, who has a T20 strike rate of 128.93, was one of the stand-out performers at the World Cup and played under head coach Jason Gillespie when Adelaide Strikers won the Big Bash.
Former England T20 international Reece Topley is another potentially exciting addition after recovering from injury.
But Wright, who played his 300th T20 game in last year’s final, admits Sussex have had to strengthen to remain competitive. “I think we’ve got a good squad - we’ve got a lot of bases covered,” he said.
“But we needed to be stronger because I think if you look at every other team they are adding to their squads. And then you factor in the players in our domestic game who play franchise T20 cricket during the winter now as well as the international stuff. The standard this year could be the best it’s been.
“Laurie Evans and Phil Salt both had a taste of that last winter and the more you experience different conditions and opponents the better you become as a player. In T20 you can’t stand still anymore.
“We’ve got huge hopes, but you look at some of the teams who didn’t get through last year and how they have strengthened. We know just getting out of the group is going to be extremely tough.”
The Sharks won their final three group games to reach the knockout stages last year and then defeated Durham and Somerset before losing to Worcestershire at Edgbaston.
“I remember saying after the final that if we had to lose to anyone, I was happy it was Worcestershire because they are a top side, but we’d love to go one better,” added Wright. “At the end of the group stage we had momentum and that’s what we’ll need again.
“This time of the season is always exciting because everyone starts on nought. It is good fun - we play in front of packed houses and the standard of cricket is getting better and better. We’re looking forward to it.”