International places up for grabs as English cricket season starts

April 11, 2018

Barely has England's long winter tour of Australia and New Zealand ended than the new domestic season is getting under way; and there will be lots of opportunities for players to impress the selectors. 

Although England were very close to victory in the final Test of the winter in Christchurch, the fact that they lost the series in New Zealand after being bowled out for only 58 in Auckland compounded the 4-0 Ashes series defeat in Australia. 

By contrast, the 50-over side continued to excel, taking on the two 2015 World Cup finalists on their own turf in five-match series and beating them both.

Wisden editor Lawrence Booth argued England's Test side had "gone backwards" over the winter. There is still a desire for a top-class bowler of express pace and a quality spinner, there are question marks about Mark Stoneman as an opener and - notwithstanding his two double centuries in the last year - increasingly over Alastair Cook. Skipper Joe Root continues to struggle to convert 50s into hundreds and James Vince failed to nail down the number three position.

At the conclusion of the short series in New Zealand, coach Trevor Bayliss hinted that there is plenty of scope for County players to attract the eye of the selectors. Ambitious top order batsmen, pace bowlers and spinners will all be itching to get started. 

Champions Essex begin the defence of the title with a boost after seamer Jamie Porter was named one of Wisden's Five Cricketers of the Year in its 2018 edition, with the others being West Indian batsman Shai Hope and women's World Cup winners Heather Knight, Natalie Sciver and Anya Shrubsole.

Last year's runners-up Lancashire will be another side to watch, particularly their batting. Club captain Liam Livingstone was selected for the New Zealand tour, although he did not feature in the Tests. Opener Haseeb Hameed will also be closely watched, having impressed in his first few Tests in India last winter before a broken thumb disrupted him and prompted a run of poor form last year. 

The Kia Oval will certainly be a place to be this summer. It hosts the final Test of the season as England face India in September, but before then the form of Mark Stoneman and Jason Roy will be closely watched. 

After finishing third last year, Surrey's hopes have been boosted by the signing of veteran fast bowler Morne Morkel on a two-year deal. The South African took his 300th Test wicket in the recent series victory over Australia, his last action before retiring from international cricket. South Africa will miss him, and England would love to have a bowler like him, so his signing is definitely Surrey's gain.  

Whoever impresses the selectors, England will still be favourites to win the early summer series against an inexperienced Pakistan side, for whom star leg spinner Yasir Shah will be missing with a hip injury. India, the top-ranked Test side, will be a more formidable challenge and the county season is set to be spiced up by the anticipated appearance of skipper Virat Kohli, named by Wisden as the leading player in the world for the second year running.  

Surrey and Essex have both been in talks with Kohli over a possible short stint ahead of India's tour.

Image: MARTY MELVILLE/AFP/Getty Images from Keith Prowse subscription

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