What went wrong? That’s the question on Eastbourne Cricket Club’s lips after the first relegation in their history.
With a side that can boast three county league players, the top run-scorer in the division and a host of experienced and well-respected big names, relegation seemed the least possible outcome when the season started.
And even mid-way through the season, when Eastbourne were languishing in the basement of the Sussex 1st XL Premier Division, everyone at the club believed they had the skill to weave their way to safety.
But it was not to be. Despite one of the best results of their season at home to Roffey on the final day, Eastbourne were condemned to the drop, finishing just two points behind Worthing.
It was an agonising end to a disappointing season in which Eastbourne recorded five wins, five draws and eight defeats, ending on 256 points.
And now, as the cricket club ponder the prospect of life in the 1st XL Division Two, they must also reflect on what went wrong this past season in order to put it right ready for next year.
It would be easy to point the finger at Mohammad Akram, who was responsible for a five-point deduction late in the season after unsporting behaviour when he was called out against Hastings.
The former Pakistan Test bowler was drafted in to the Eastbourne squad to help them avoid the dreaded drop but, had the club not had the five-point penalty slapped upon them, they would have finished three points above Worthing and therefore safe from relegation.
The club’s Chairman Ian Fletcher-Price was quick to jump to Akram’s defence, saying “The fact is we were in a relegation fight long before Akram joined us.
“We had plenty of opportunities to get those points and our whole season does not come down to that incident. We have to take it on the chin as a team.”
Captain Mark Tomsett also referred to the fact Akram took five wickets in that ill-fated Hastings clash but, considering the club still lost the tie, that seems like little consolation.
However, it would be true to say that Eastbourne’s relegation fears were in place long before Akram joined the squad. In fact, right from the first weekend in May, Eastbourne were playing catch-up with the rest of the pack.
A series of crushing seven and five-wicket defeats ensured Eastbourne always had a fight on their hands as they remained rooted to the foot of the table throughout the campaign.
Their first win came in June but only four managed to follow as it seemed one step forward was always followed by two steps back for the Saffrons outfit.
When asked what was the root of the problems for his side this season, captain Tomsett said, “We picked up the second highest amount of bonus points in the league which shows we were recording the runs. What we lacked was the final push to see teams off, just getting over the line.
“There was about five or six games where we fell 20 or so short and, had we won those games, we’d have been talking about a potential title chase.”
Those games in question include Bexhill, when just one wicket separated Eastbourne from victory, and against both Brighton and Chichester, when Eastbourne fell 27 and 18 runs short respectively.
Everyone knew it would go down to the wire as just a handful of points separated bottom club Eastbourne and near mid-table Worthing. However, after a nail-bitingly close final day, it was bad news for Eastbourne as they leap-frogged Bexhill but still became victims of the drop.
Had Worthing recorded just 13 runs less in their match, Eastbourne would have survived.
Tomsett, who for the second season running was the Premier Division’s leading run-scorer with an impressive 881 runs, said, “Winning is a habit, just like losing is a habit. Unfortunately, we got into the habit of losing.
“We’ve got a young side here but we have the skill to win, it’s about having the will.
“We want players with a care factor about the club, players who play when it matters. That’s something we would have looked at over the winter, whatever happened.”