South African's return is like a new signing for Sussex

Stiaan van Zyl / Picture by PW Sporting Photography
Stiaan van Zyl / Picture by PW Sporting Photography

Compared to some of their rivals, Sussex have kept squad strengthening to a minimum ahead of the new season.

Left-arm seamer Mir Hamza arrives in May to play eight Championship games and the Pakistani, who made his Test debut last year, will play a key role at an important part of the season.

He is the only new face at Hove although skipper Ben Brown believes the return to fitness of Stiaan van Zyl feels like ‘signing a new player.’ The South African had to abort his second season with the county last May because of wear and tear to his knee, for which the only cure was prolonged rest.

Van Zyl has eased himself back to fitness at home during the winter but his match-winning half-century against Kent last week, at the start of Sussex’s pre-season trip to Cape Town, was a reassuring sight for Brown, who acknowledges that van Zyl needs to make his fair share of runs if Sussex are to get back into Division One in the Specsavers County Championship.

Brown said: “Stiaan is a great guy who loves to play cricket and be around our group, it’s been great to have him back. He’s a popular member of our squad and he’s a class act with the bat. We joked with him when he was compiling that effortless match-winning knock against Kent that he looked a bit rusty! But he certainly looks ready to play well again.”

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A fit van Zyl will almost certainly be in Sussex’s top five which means another batsman could be disappointed, depending on the make-up of the team.

Brown added: “Stiaan’s return definitely adds depth to the batting but I really think there’s healthy competition for spots and ultimately some good players will be left disappointed – but that’s good for the squad. No one can feel too comfortable this year and that has certainly been reflected in the way the guys have trained and prepared in pre-season.”

Sussex have deliberately concentrated on the 50-over format in South Africa, with their first game in the Royal London One-Day Cup against Surrey on Good Friday. In the past three years they have won just six games in the competition and Brown is desperate for that modest record to improve.

But when they get back to Sussex next week they will swap the white ball for a red one as preparations intensify for the Specsavers County Championship opener against Leicestershire at the 1st Central County Ground on April 5.

There are two two-day friendlies - against Hampshire at Hove on Monday and Kent on Thursday - before Cardiff MCCU arrive for a three-day fixture on March 31.

Jofra Archer will be absent for the Royal London One-Day Cup and the first two Championship games because of IPL commitments but otherwise a full-strength squad will give Brown and Head Coach Jason Gillespie the tough selection decisions they would want at the start of the new season.