Rob Andrew speaks while Chocolate Pot exchanged
The wet mist descended slowly across the empty County Ground, as a small tractor moved across the moist grass while business people sipped champagne over light conversation in the Focus conference room. This can only mean one thing – the start of the English cricket season.
The 2017 squad of Sussex players mixed socially with corporate supporters in positive preparation for the new season ahead. Joining the assembled group was new chief executive, former England Rugby player Rob Andrew, now running a professional cricket club. Being introduced to the corporate guests as someone who scored a first-class century for Cambridge University was a surprise to some as most remember Andrew’s Rugby talents as an assured kicker with defensive abilities off both feet for England earning 71 caps between 1985-1997, playing in three world cups 1987 and more importantly as a senior player in 1991 and 1995, just missing out winning the World Cup in the 1991 final at Twickenham against Australia.
The Daily Telegraph described Rob Andrews appointment as ‘a political ‘big-hitter’ who will help the county protect their interests at a time of deep structural change’. Many feel his main issue is cricket outside the county with the advent of ECB city based T20 franchise system with the hope of rivalling Australia’s ‘Big Bash’ and India’s IPL. Indeed, when such plans were first put forward Sussex was one of only three counties to oppose, leaving them slightly out in the political wilderness of club cricket and something Rob Andrew needs to address. He called upon the club ‘to have real ambition’, having always ‘punched above its weight as a county’ in the past ‘which is a good thing’. He remained excited and impressed particularly with the growth of the Cricket Foundation within the club ‘helping others less fortunate’.
Executive management is not a new thing to Andrew. In 1995 he joined the Newcastle-on-Tyne sporting revolution as a player and Director of Rugby, for Newcastle Gosforth, to be renamed Newcastle Falcons when the game went professional in 1996. The club under the ownership of John Hall (who was then involved in turning around the Newcastle football team with Kevin Keegan), took off immediately with Rob Andrew’s guidance winning the first Rugby premiership title 1997/98. In 1999 Andrew retired from playing but continued as Director of Rugby, bringing in a certain Jonny Wilkinson to take his position. Rob was credited for discovering Wilkinson and bringing him through to the player he became for club & country.
However, at Sussex that particular job of player development and coach falls upon Mark Davis. It is his second year in charge of the team, having got off to a rather mixed start last season. Yet in his own address to the listening audience, he felt very upbeat about the season ahead. Having taken the squad on an ‘Army day’ to help build team spirit and collective awareness. Mark believed the team was in good shape particularly in the bowling department, that being underlined in T20 competition by Tymal Mills eminence power with the ball, recently signing for a £1.4 million contract with the IPL team Royal Challengers Bangalore.
Davis admits he ‘learned a lot in his first year’ and is pleased with his recruiting of players for this year’s competition. Pushed on what constitutes a good season? He remarked ‘Promotion to division one of the county championship and getting out of the group stages of the one day competitions’.
Following the club administrators, it was back to the tables for chat and an enjoyable sweet. Only to realise the strict dietary control professional sports people are under these days, with one player remarking if they go above their regulated body fat. ‘They are fined’. Turning to him ‘In that case … can I have your chocolate pot and shortbread biscuit?’
Matthew Willetts MA is the Director of Comicus who has over 35 years experience in television, film, theatre, and comedy club/cabaret entertainment, working as a performer, screenwriter, producer and agent. He lectured at Southampton Solent University in Comedy, Screenwriting, Television, Theatre & Radio. Matthew can sometimes be seen and heard on TV & Radio and often quoted in the national press and media publications. As well as speaking regularly at festivals and industry conferences, he has been a judge at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the Montreux Television Festival.