Inside the Ali Orr transfer that shocked Sussex County Cricket Club

Ali Orr
The departure of local lad and top prospect Ali Orr has caused uproar at Sussex - Getty Images/Gareth Copley

With furious fans, board resignations and a prized player joining a wealthier local rival, it is a tale more familiar to Premier League football than county cricket.

Sussex supporters have become used to losing players during Rob Andrew’s seven-year spell as chief executive. Popular cricketers Luke Wells, Ben Brown and recently George Garton have all left for pastures new, to some exasperation and confusion.

But Monday’s announcement that batting starlet Ali Orr would be joining Sussex’s “El Clasicoast” rivals Hampshire triggered a rare anger among an already restless fanbase and saw two former captains step away from roles at the club.

Orr was at the vanguard of a new generation of Sussex players thrust into the first team as youngsters due to the departure of more experienced heads. He is a 22-year-old local lad – born and raised in Eastbourne, educated at the prolific Bede’s School, and an academy graduate. A first-class average a tick under 40 is such that some good judges consider him a Test prospect.

But despite having a year to run on his contract, he has followed Brown along the M27 to more monied rivals with a Test ground and a Hundred team, having signed a three-year deal.

Orr’s last year at Sussex was Paul Farbrace’s first as head coach. The player had a frustrating year due to injury, while results improved under Farbrace, who was vocal about his desire to add experience to the squad.

‘We did have a clash’

At times, Farbrace was publicly critical of the players, and the beginning of the end for Orr at Sussex appears to have been a Championship game at Derby in September, when the pair had a run-in. Orr was said to have reacted with churlish, adrenalin-filled anger to being dismissed (as batsmen often do), and in response Farbrace rebuked him in front of team-mates and staff. Farbrace acknowledges there was a fall-out, but puts Orr’s departure down to the player’s agent’s desire to improve his contractual terms.

“We did have a clash in the Derby game,” said Farbrace. “But we spoke and as far as I was concerned that was sorted. I have no bad feeling towards Ali.

“At the end of the season, his agent wanted to increase his contract. I said we were happy to lengthen it for two years on top of the one he had left, but we haven’t got the funds to increase the salary.

“As a result, we gave him a 10-day window to see if he could find something else, and in that window he found a contract with Hampshire. We have since negotiated compensation with Hampshire.

“We don’t want to lose him. We want him to open in all forms of the game. But we cannot improve his terms, because we don’t have the finances to do that.

“We could have made him crack on for another season but I didn’t think that was the right thing for Ali, or the club. You could have a player for two months thinking about getting to June 1 and talking to other clubs. That is not a great place to be for either party.”

In an interview with the BBC, Sussex chairman Jon Filby admitted “tension exists between coaches and players at all times” and “that is probably one of the ‘catalysts’ that encouraged Ali to think the grass was greener elsewhere.”

‘Nothing to do with money’

Those who know him say Orr – about whom few have a bad word to say – may have struggled to get on with Farbrace after the fall-out.

Meanwhile, Alan Wells, the former Sussex captain and father of Luke, who coached Orr at Bede’s, said on X on Monday the move was “nothing to do with money”. In a rare appearance on social media, Wells Snr described himself as “totally bemused by how Sussex have managed to let go one of the best young cricketers that has played for Sussex in the past several years?”

The tweet captured the mood of Sussex fans. Former England wicketkeeper Matt Prior – a vocal critic of the club under Andrew – described it as an “absolute shocker AGAIN from Sussex”, while club legend Chris Nash joined him, describing it as a “concern” and “not a good look.”

It was no coincidence that in the hours that followed the announcement, Ian “Gunner” Gould, the former Sussex wicketkeeper who became a top international umpire, resigned from his positions on the main board at Hove and the cricket committee. On Tuesday morning, Championship-winning captain Chris Adams informed the club he would also be stepping back from the cricket committee, which is designed to advise and challenge the club’s coaching staff.

Neither man has spoken publicly on why they have quit. In an interview with the BBC, Filby said: “I don’t think that is particularly true,” – that they had stepped back based on Orr’s move, adding: “They have both been talking to me about their frustrations with their roles.”

Rob Andrew at the County Ground in Hove
Sussex fans have become used to losing players during Rob Andrew’s seven-year spell as chief executive - Getty Images/Mike Hewitt

It is understood the Orr incident might be considered the straw that broke the camel’s back. While Gould and Adams, as Filby says, did have long-standing concerns over the need for the committee while Farbrace was in charge – it had met just a handful of times this year – and had been considering their positions, they also did not want to be seen to endorse the move.

“The cricket decisions are made entirely by Paul Farbrace,” said Filby. “I am very content that the right model for Sussex is to find the best person we can to run our cricket.

“Ian helped us to move to a model where there is only one coach, but he has found it frustrating not to be involved in all the decision making. So, he has decided that being a board member isn’t for him.

“It was a similar level of frustration with Chris. He didn’t want to be associated with decisions that were not his decisions.”

Whether the move came because of a fall-out, a desire for more money or both, Filby was right when he said it “obviously is a vote of confidence in Paul Farbrace”. Farbrace will not have Orr next season, but has added the experienced Australian opener Daniel Hughes for half the campaign.

Filby added that “Sussex cricket has never been in better shape than it is now”, a statement that some fans – hoping that Orr will not be the first of another raft of departures – might disagree with.

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