It has been a testing couple of years for Ed Joyce.
After taking over the Sussex captaincy from Michael Yardy in 2013, the Ireland left-hander has guided the club through a transitional period during which the club have failed to win a trophy, falling especially wide of the mark in the one-day formats.
Following a narrow but painful knockout defeat to Pakistan in this year’s World Cup with Ireland, which he marks as the lowest point of his career to date, it would be understandable if he were tentative about the new season. However, he is far from it.
“I’m very excited for the new season,” begins Joyce. “There is a lot of optimism around. We’ve played good Championship cricket in general the last couple of years; obviously we’d love to improve on that. We said the same thing last year but we’d love to win the Championship, that would be great, and that’s my ultimate ambition as captain of the club.”
The 36-year-old comes into this season off the back of an impressive performance individually at the World Cup as well as his best batting season to date for Sussex; scoring 1,398 County Championship runs at an average of 66.57, including seven centuries.
Despite a number of heroic performances from Ed who, at times, single handedly propped up the team’s batting, the Hove-based club finished third in the Championship table for the second year running, yet, for the side’s oldest full-time player, there is a straight forward remedy.
“It’s pretty simple really, we just need more guys supporting the people who are having good seasons,” says Ed. “We generally have a couple of guys who have really good seasons and then we don’t have the guys who need to support that around the fringes.”
To try and halt their trophy-less run, which now stretches back to 2009, the team have signed a number of players including Ajmal Shahzad, Tymal Mills and the legendary Mahela Jayawardene, while Matt Prior’s decision to step away from international cricket is cause for optimism at the County Ground.
“We’ve made some good signings for a start and hopefully they’ll give us a few more options at the front and at the death in both forms of white ball cricket,” explains Ed, who this year decided to step down as captain of the Sharks’ T20 side to allow Luke Wright to take over.
“We felt as a leadership group that it would be great for Luke first of all to take that on; he’s our best Twenty20 player, he knows the game better than anyone in the club, he plays around the world and he knows the trends that are going on that seem to matter so much in Twenty20 cricket. He’s taken on the role really well and it also gives me an opportunity to rest, even if I’m playing, captaincy take a bit more out of you, so I think it’ll be great for him.”
Joyce is aware he is edging ever closer to a now-or-never season and, as one of the veterans of the Sussex squad, it is inevitable that he can see the end in sight. However, after a solid start to the season, hopes are high of a historic season at Hove and a fitting finale to a fine career.
He says, “There is optimism. We’ve come third the last two years in four-day cricket and it is an ambition of mine to win the Championship before I finish playing. There’s probably only a couple of years left of me playing so it would be lovely to do that this year.”