With the season fast approaching, Eastbourne’s three professional cricketers are facing a make-or-break campaign as they seek to establish themselves among the professional ranks.
Ollie Rayner is one such player who must prove himself in the summer of 2011. Despite bursting onto the scene at the start of his Sussex career, hitting a century in his first-class debut against a touring Sri Lanka side, Rayner has since struggled to establish himself as a regular in the Sussex first eleven.
The 6ft 5in all-rounder has subsequently been sent out on loan to Middlesex until at least the middle of May, where it is hoped he can begin to reproduce his undoubted quality with the bat and ball on a regular basis.
With Middlesex due to kick their season off next Thursday against Essex, the 25-year-old Rayner knows he must find his form soon.
He said, “I’ve got to the stage of my career where I need to be playing regular cricket. The length of the loan spell isn’t really fixed. Middlesex and Sussex will be sitting down at key dates, reviewing my progress and deciding what’s best for everybody concerned.
“Pre-season has gone really well for me so far. I’m very happy at Middlesex, the players, coaches and staff have all been really welcoming and made it very easy for me to settle in.
“At the same time, Sussex is my home county. It’s where I grew up, I’ve got my flat there and the coaches at Sussex have played a huge part in my life.
“The aim for me is to be a first-choice spinner at a good county cricket club. This season, I don’t really mind where I am, so long as I’m enjoying my cricket.”
Rayner can seek inspiration from former Eastbourne captain Tom Smith, who has flourished since moving to Middlesex following his release from Sussex two years ago.
The 23-year-old is now in his second season at Middlesex and can hopefully build upon the promising start he made in 2010, which included superb 5-24 bowling figures in a Twenty20 match against Kent.
Smith said: “I’m looking to establish myself in all forms of the game. I did really well in the Twenty20 games last year and actually ended up being our leading wicket taker, but I want to improve my standing in the one-day and Test sides as well. “The move actually turned out brilliantly for me, so I’m sure Ollie will find his time here worthwhile.”
The last of Eastbourne’s talented trio, wicket-keeper Ben Brown, is another who will hope to make his mark during the forthcoming season. With Matt Prior on England duty the role of Sussex keeper is very much up for grabs, with a straight fight between 22-year-old Brown and rival keeper Andrew Hodd expected to decide who is number one.