21-years-old and going places, Ali Orr’s breakthrough season at Sussex points towards a bright future for club and, say it quietly, country.

Sussex supporters had few reasons to be cheerful last summer, but a remarkable five days in August would have offered fans a blissful relief from the implosion of internal politics that played out half behind closed doors. In their most successful competition in 2022, the Royal London One Day Cup, their star overseas signing Cheteshwar Pujara added to his mountain of runs in the red-ball format by smashing the club’s highest ever individual fifty-over score.

His 174 against Surrey befitted his status as the club’s dependable run machine last year, but less than a week later, he had been knocked off the top spot by Orr, 13 years in his junior and only in his 12th List A match. In a paradoxically sweet anecdote, Orr credits Pujara for having a hand in breaking his own record.

“Whenever anyone asks me about that, the biggest thing I always say is that the night before I had dinner: just myself and Pujara,” said Orr. “I’d say that was arguably as good a feeling as actually getting the double itself.

“We spoke a bit about how he got to where he’d got to, how he’d gone about his cricket and the training he did. He was telling me where he’d come from, and how he’s dealt with pressures along the way. I don’t know whether it was written in the stars or what it was, but it was so nice to have a conversation like that with someone of his calibre. It made me very relaxed going into the game and confident, in a way, that someone like him had given me that time.”

There are endless examples of young players sharing dressing room with those already considered cricketing demigods. Kumar Sangakkara’s time at Surrey as the likes of the Currans were still in their early days of professional cricket springs to mind. Sussex’s dressing room also benefited from Muhammad Rizwan last summer and will reportedly welcome Steve Smith next season. Whatever Pujara said to Orr, on a flat deck the next day he had clearly put his dinner partner in the mood for runs.

“I kept ticking the milestones off in my head,” he said. “When I got to 109 that was my personal best, and then I think 157 had been the highest score I’d got in any sort of cricket, so I thought okay that’s the next one. When I got to 180, I realised this could be on here.

“I’ve never had that feeling of having so much adrenaline as when I was on 199. I remember I was batting with Delray [Rawlins] at the time, and he walked down to me and said, ‘no one’s done it before, make sure you’re the first’. So I just got a single, which I think maybe is going to seem selfish, but I was so adamant I wanted to get it.”

Finishing on 206 after he was caught in the last over of the innings, he just missed out on the outright record in the competition’s current incarnation. Ollie Robinson had hit 206 not out for Worcestershire two weeks before.

“Records are a real motivator for me,” said Orr. “One of our coaches said at the beginning of the season, every single thing that you do this year will be in that Wisden Almanack at the end of the year. I mean, I buy one every year so of course, I want to look in that book and see the best possible things for myself in it.”

Just over a month later, Orr was closing in on a double century once more, this time facing a red ball. He already has two first-class hundreds to his name from the summer, is sitting in the top ten run-scorers across divisions of the Championship, and had a famous opening stand with Tom Haines in the final game of the season had turned around a match they looked sure to lose. At stumps on day three, they had put on 311 from 54 overs, 190 of their runs coming in boundaries.

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Orr had made the majority of the runs, with 10 sixes in his innings which he struck at more than a run a ball. He resumed on 185 on the morning of day four and hit a six off the second over of the morning. But an over later, he was run out off an unlucky deflection at the non-striker’s end, two runs short of a double.

“I just remember walking off just thinking I should have got 200,” said Orr. “It was a special innings but instead of thinking, I’m really happy with what I got I just thought no, I should have a 200. That comes from my Dad.”

Growing up, Orr’s journey started through the traditional route which many current and former Sussex cricketers have trodden before. Bede’s prep school, where his mum worked, formed his earliest cricketing experiences, just as it did for the likes of Luke Wells, Ollie Rayner and Archie Lennon.

After being picked up at county trials aged eight, Orr’s fledgling cricketing career hit its first stumbling block. Being groomed for professional sport from a young age can be a recipe for an intoxicating environment of intense pressure, so often fraught with disappointment.

“I was quite lucky to stay in the system when I was young,” said Orr. “I never got any runs or anything. I almost talked myself out of it. I seemed to put a Sussex shirt on every single time and panic that the world was on my shoulders when I was batting and it took, I reckon a couple of seasons to realise that, actually, it was just another game and it was just for me to enjoy it out there.

“I can’t say I ever thrived in a classroom, I was never particularly smart but cricket was always what I loved doing and I used to say to my dad that I wanted to play professionally. He’s probably my harshest critic of everyone so he was the one who was probably the hardest on me. He’s helped me keep pushing myself and keep improving.

“He’s a perfectionist, so I always got it from that point of view. No matter what I did, there was always more I could be doing. From when I was younger, if I’d be struggling with one subject in class and I’d get good grades in the others and the one that I wasn’t good at, he’d make sure to outline and make sure I was doing more in that subject.

“He never gave me so much praise. It was more what I could do to keep improving. So I guess that’s ingrained in me. Everything I do is trying to improve the whole time.”

Nevertheless, the bacon sandwiches Orr says his dad used to make for him before weekend net sessions at Eastbourne Cricket Club contributed to the development of one of the most exciting young batters in the country. Perfectionism instilled from a young age and a hunger for runs have generated ever-increasing noise around Orr further afield from the South Coast.

From an England point of view, while it is too early to be including his name in contention for a spot at the top of the order, especially considering their previous 12 months, he has been earmarked by many as a future international star.

The two most destructive innings he played this year are illustrative of his attacking abilities, as is a T20 strike rate of 161. That can be paired with a solid defensive technique and a love for the individual battles of red ball cricket. Orr’s overall strike rate in first-class cricket is 48.76, and what seems to come instinctively to him is a rarity which watchers and commentators regularly cry out for. He has a natural ability to attack and defend when required in equal measure and with equal success.

“I pride myself on leaving early on in the innings,” said Orr. “If I leave well outside off stump then the bowlers have got to bowl at me, and it’s almost like cat and mouse in those battles early on.

“I’ve always felt like it’s almost like a rewarding thing, so I don’t mind leaving a few balls because then I know that I’m either gonna get a shorter one or I’m gonna get one straight through my path. So to me, I get as much satisfaction out of a good leave as I do as a forward defence because I know that they’re both doing the same thing to the bowler. I’m here to stay and I’m here to bat for a long period of time.”

With that in mind, when asked about his cricketing heroes a predictable name comes up.

“Probably one of the greatest days of my life was playing against Alastair Cook the season before last,” he said. “I was actually in the nets in the morning before the game having a hit and he came into the net next to me. I remember just staring at him watching what he did in the nets and my coach was laughing because he knew how much I admired him. So when I wasn’t really focusing and kept looking at what he was doing, he bowled me a bouncer and hit me in the head. I nearly missed the game with a concussion.

“I was just watching him because I just had to see what he did in the morning. After I watched what he did, for the rest of the season I did what he did. I think it helps that he’s got the same first name as me, but everything he did I’ve almost tried to emulate.”

Comparisons to England’s leading Test run-scorer, outside of their first names, are most definitely premature. But his idolisation of Cook, as well as his draw to Pujara throughout last season, point to a player going about his business in a particular way. Whether Orr’s future lies in England colours or not, his breakthrough year has more than earned his status as one to watch, and he is a bright spot on a fairly bleak horizon for Sussex supporters.