Ravi Bopara has bid an emotional farewell to Essex, his county home for 18 years, after ending weeks of speculation about his future with a move with Sussex that will enable him to focus on white-ball cricket in the final years of his career.
Announcing the move in a post on Twitter, Bopara paid tribute to his Essex team-mates and fans, in particular his "best friend" Ryan Ten Doeschate, the club captain alongside whom he has played his entire professional career, as well as Graham Gooch, his "greatest teacher".
Bopara, 34, signed off on a high for the club that he first represented as a 17-year-old in 2002, playing the decisive innings in the final of the T20 Blast against Worcestershire at Edgbaston last month before helping to seal the club's second County Championship title in three seasons at Taunton five days later.
Bopara played a total of 499 matches for Essex across formats, scoring 11,148 first-class runs at 42.06. In all he made 101 half-centuries, 37 of which he converted to three figures. In addition to this season's double, he was also integral to Essex's Pro40 League victories in 2005 and 2006, the NatWest Trophy in 2008, the Championship Division Two title in 2016 and the Division One title in 2017.
In recent years, however, Bopara has become an increasingly sought-after player in overseas T20 leagues, including the Bangladesh Premier League, the Pakistan Super League, and the Afghanistan Premier League, and it was his desire to maximise his opportunities on those fronts that contributed to the breakdown of contract negotiations at Essex.
He was also reportedly unhappy at being handed a new finisher's role within the Essex T20 team, although he rose to the occasion in their remarkable Blast campaign, producing a string of matchwinning performances in their surge to the title, including 36 not out from 22 balls in the final, and a vital 70 not out from 35 balls in a must-win group match at The Oval.
"I speak for the team when I say we are very sad to see Rav leave the club after 18 years," said Ten Doeschate. "Rav has always been extremely popular in the dressing room, combining unbelievable talent, skill, hard work, and a great cricket mind with a friendly, witty and comical demeanour.
"He's been a great team-mate and a fiercely loyal friend. I'm so pleased that he leaves on a high after playing the key role in the club winning our first T20 title. It will be strange to play against him next year, but we wish him all the very best at his new Club."
Talking of his move to Hove, Bopara insisted he was not retiring from first-class cricket, but said that his white-ball game was his priority, as he even targeted a return to England recognition with back-to-back T20 World Cups looming in 2020 and 2021.
"I want to thank Sussex for this opportunity. It is a great chance to play under a respected and acknowledged coach like Jason Gillespie and with a very strong and talented team of players, many of whom will no doubt go on to receive international honours.
"On a personal note I have a burning desire to achieve greater things in this wonderful game. I will now put a greater emphasis on T20 cricket. I am fitter and stronger than I have ever been and playing my best cricket.
"I want to emphasise that I am not giving up red-ball cricket but I will, for now, play less of it to find time in the calendar year to up-skill in T20 and take my game to a new level as I still have a drive to play international cricket.
"Here's to the future and hopefully another decade of happy and successful times."
Sussex head coach, Gillespie added: "I'm really, really excited about having Ravi Bopara join us at Sussex. It's a bit of a coup for us to be perfectly honest: what a wonderful player Ravi has been for England and Essex for a long, long time.
"His knowledge and experience are going to be invaluable in our dressing room. He's a great lad and we're very thankful that Ravi has decided to join us. Players and coaches alike are excited to work with him and learn from him."