Jason Gillespie never thought he’d be returning to county cricket quite so soon after bringing his trophy-laden tenure at Yorkshire to an end in 2016, but he’s adamant that his new role at Sussex is a long-term commitment, despite inevitable speculation linking him to the Australia head coach role in the wake of the Cape Town ball-tampering scandal.
Speaking at Hove during his belated unveiling, after visa issues had delayed his arrival earlier in the month, Gillespie was tight-lipped about the events in South Africa that had led to the sacking of Australia’s captain Steve Smith, and left the future of their incumbent coach Darren Lehmann in serious jeopardy.
However, Gillespie insisted that his excitement at taking up the reins at Hove was the only thing on his mind for the foreseeable future.
“I’ve signed a three-year deal, and I have every intention of honouring that commitment,” Gillespie said. “I also have a couple more years on my contract with the Adelaide Strikers, and I enjoy and cherish that job.
“I have only been here since Saturday, so it is a bit early to think about other jobs! It is a really good opportunity here. I am excited about the role. It is fantastic. I have a great group of kids coming through, with some good experienced cricketers, and strong support staff. I am really looking forward to it.”
The allure of Hove wasn’t abundantly apparent on Sussex’s pre-season media day, with torrential rain flooding the square and forcing the entire squad to take shelter in the pavilion.
However, Gillespie’s enthusiasm for getting stuck into his new role was far more obvious. He spoke with passion about the challenge of reviving the fortunes of a club that has hit a fallow period after rising to become the dominant Championship team of the early and mid-2000s.
“You always ask yourself when an opportunity comes up, do you feel you can help, and make a difference,” he said. “I genuinely feel that with Sussex.
“I’ve been very clear on this, I’m not talking to the team about wins and losses,” he added. “Trophies are end results. We need to put in place how we are going to go about playing the game. We want to entertain our crowds and show the pride and passion of representing Sussex.
“What I can guarantee is that the lads that represent our county are going to have a smile on their face, have great body language and be enjoying themselves.”
Such a stated focus on cultural values will surely have caused some jealous glances from Cricket Australia towards the South Coast, as they set about reframing their priorities in the wake of the Cape Town Test.
For the time being, Lehmann – Gillespie’s former Australia team-mate – retains the support of the board, after it was decided that he had no prior knowledge of the decision to use sandpaper on the match ball during the third day at Newlands.
However, Lehmann’s role in fostering a team culture in which such actions were deemed acceptable may well come under scrutiny at the end of what has been an acrimonious series against South Africa.
Gillespie himself, writing in his Guardian column earlier this week, described Australia’s predicament as a “train-wreck”, and cast doubt on Lehmann’s claim that he had been ignorant of his players’ intentions.
“I would be amazed if this was not the case,” he wrote, “and that the moves he made when it all unravelled on the field were not done on instinct to protect his players.”
Sussex chief executive Rob Andrew, the man who lured Gillespie back to the English game, admitted that he was keeping his fingers crossed that there would be no change of heart from his new head coach, given what a state of flux world cricket has been in since the events of Saturday afternoon.
“Sadly nothing surprises me in the world of sport,” Andrew said. “Dizzy says he’s committed to Sussex and I hope he is. Cricket Australia have not come knocking so everything’s hypothetical. We will deal with situations when they are real.”