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Cricket news - Salt to prove he's a man for all seasons

"I was listening to people trying to teach me how to bat and I'd just lost myself in all that."

"What a horrible feeling that was, waiting for it to come up on the big screen."

It's been six months, which is why Phil Salt can talk about it, and certainly why he can laugh about it.

Sussex Sharks had timed it perfectly: the sticking together of performances, the peaking of individuals. They'd finished third in the South Group so were not considered favourites going into the knockout stages, but those who watched them saw the established Luke Wright, Laurie Evans and David Wiese aided by a crop of youngsters growing into themselves as cricketers. Salt was at the forefront of that movement.

He had struck four fifties in this first part of the competition, including a head-turning 66 off 25 balls in their victory over Middlesex. Even his failures had an air of saving grace about them, consistently striking at 172. And in the final against Worcestershire Rapids, it looked like a career-defining innings was on the cards.

"I'd just hit Wayne Parnell for two sixes over long-off," he recalls correctly to Cricbuzz. Big hits as well: the first high, the second long. "I thought he was going to go for a slower ball. But he rushed me and hit me in the pad. It's gone to point and Wrighty has called me through. We both sort of set off because there's obviously one there. And then... well, I dunno. It was just one of those moments."

Salt jogs to the other end, chuntering to himself. Even though he'd guessed wrong, the delivery from the left-armer was very much in his arc. He remembers thinking "I should have hit that". It was in this moment Salt reckons he might have missed the call that the throw was coming to his end. There might not have even been one. As he passes over the crease at the non-striker's end, with no part of him in contact with the ground, the stumps are broken by a throw from Brett D'Oliveira.

"I couldn't quite believe I'd done it. As soon as the ball hit the stumps, I knew. That was the worst thing."

Sussex went on to lose the game, Worcestershire winning with five wickets and nine balls to spare. All told, the target was about 20 runs short. Or, to put it another way, the runs Salt could have added had he lasted just an extra five deliveries. Two supporters were ejected for laying into Salt excessively when he returned to the dugout following the dismissal. But it was only hours later when it properly sunk in. "I was sat in the dressing room and the gravity of what happened just hit me out of nowhere."

The moment took the gloss off what had been an impressive few months for Sussex as a whole. For a while, their success was reliant on the same characters, as the next generation struggled to take their chances in the first team. But last summer, they came to the fore: Salt, Delray Rawlings, Harry Finch, Michael Burgess and Tom Haines if not sharing the burden then, at least contributing during a long summer.

While the most recognisable strides taken by those young Sharks came in the T20 Blast, Championship performances were solid with Sussex finishing third, behind the now Division One Warwickshire and Kent. Repeating that position this season will see them promoted.

"It's a funny one," says Salt as he considers their progress as a team. "If you look at the younger group, we're all learning at the same pace.

"Bringing the discussion back to Championship cricket, last year we learned a lot of lessons. The most important one was knowing we need to sit in the game: five more overs, 10 more overs at the time, and we would have put on properly big, big scores. The number of times we had three or four bats getting starts and not going on to make a big score. I feel like by now, if we're all taking it on board and developing as a young crop of batters, I feel like this season if we apply ourselves properly we can really hurt teams."

To talk about Salt and development, we need to start in Barbados because it was on this island - that hotbed of cricket and cricketers - where he started taking cricket seriously. Born in Wales, he was very much all football until his father, a property developer, relocated the family to the Caribbean for work. A change of sports brought him new joy and, at the age of 12, his first meeting with a certain Jofra Archer. "He was pretty decent back then, too," says Salt. The pair have been best mates ever since.

However, to continue his progression into the professional game, Salt had to bid his beautiful surroundings farewell. Former Surrey batsman Keith Medlycott spotted Salt and offered him a scholarship at Reed's School. "Not a lot of people can say leaving Barbados was the best move they've made," jokes Salt.

Progress from that point was frustratingly slow. He signed professionally with Sussex in 2015 after two years in the academy but saw his first coach Mark Robinson leave at the end of that season, taking promises of game-time in white-ball cricket with him.

The following two years were tough and, as his deal wore down, a move to Glamorgan arose. But a change of coach, situation and heart saw him stay on at Hove. Jason Gillespie took charge, Chris Nash departed to Nottinghamshire to free up a batting slot and Salt realised both opportunities would serve him well in a secure set-up. It also gave him time to evaluate his mindset.

"This is the problem - since I signed as a professional, I've just listened too much. I was listening to people trying to teach me how to bat and I'd just lost myself in all that. Honestly, I was a mess in 2017. Michael Yardy, our batting coach, had a few sessions with me and I could tell even he was like 'the state of him, what are we going to do?!' Just couldn't hit the thing."

So, what changed in 2018? "It's the first time I've had a coach tell me I was good enough."

This time last year, Gillespie was watching Salt during a pre-season friendly against Hampshire. There were some decent shots in there, but mostly the Australian saw a kid rigidly moving into shots, choking the bat handle and trying too hard to impress.

"A couple of days after this hash-up, Dizzy asked if I wanted to go to the pub for a drink. Obviously, you say yes. I went along and he just told me to watch the ball and react to it. He didn't give me any instructions technically. He just asked me to trust myself."

It's not just cricketers, but it does seem the advice that generates the best results in this weird little game of ours are a cocktail of two parts simplicity to one part cliche. But you only need to look at Salt's jet-setting winter to appreciate the effect these words have.

He started with the Lahore Qalandars in the Abu Dhabi T20 - a "Champions League" of sorts - and accompanied the side to Australia to play in a series of warm-ups against Big Bash League teams. Two-time Pakistan Super League winners Islamabad United had cottoned on by then and swooped to nab his signature for the 2019 tournament. He also had a stint as a Punjabi Legend for the T10 competition. Amid all of the above, he signed an extension with Sussex.

"It's been busy, to be fair. But I feel like I learned loads. The people I've been around over the last few months and the relationships I've built have been top drawer. When you are around guys who operate at the top level so consistently, I think that's where you get those golden nuggets of information from."

Naturally, the question has to be asked. He may be 22, but having had a taste of franchise life and with a game suited for Twenty20, would he be open to positioning himself as a white-ball only cricketer? "If things go a certain way. At the minute, I want to play Test cricket for England. I want to play for them in all three forms.

"People like Harry Gurney and Alex Hales, they've earned the right to specialise I think. They've played a huge amount of first-class cricket. They've won trophies and contributed to successful teams. It's their decision. They've copped it quite a bit on social media, especially Harry. But I'm not sure why, to be honest."

It is on this subject that Salt, unprompted, offers up a Championship century scored against Derbyshire. His maiden three-figure score in first-class cricket came against Durham, but it was this knock, against an attack of Lockie Ferguson and Hardus Viljoen "trying to take his head off" which he credits as a breakthrough. "As soon as I got to sixty - off like 30 or 40 balls - I went straight back down the gears, knocked it around a bit, then when back up them again.

"It wasn't my first hundred, but it was the first time I looked around against a red ball and thought, 'yeah, I can do this'."

Should he build on 2018 as expected, Sussex fans are in for a treat.

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