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The Cricketer’s England Test Tracker keeps an eye on those most likely to feature, and those coming up on the rails for a place in the national team. Disclaimer: It is possible that this column might, on occasion, get things wrong
Jamie Porter has enjoyed a fine start to the season
It’s May, the sun is shining and temperatures are threatening to tick into double figures… what better time than to look forward to the start of the Test summer?
Pakistan are already in town, although for most of their stay thus far they’ve had to keep themselves entertained, what with our Baltic weather preventing all but a handful of overs of their quite ironically named warm-up match in Canterbury from being bowled.
In 23 short days’ time, however, Safraz Ahmed will be calling the coin toss amid at Lord's and memories of a beanie-clad Peter Siddle will be as woolly as the Essex seamer’s fetching hat.
But who will the Pakistanis be lining up against? Will England’s Antipodean explorers be restored to the lineup? Or will County Championship performances actually be taken into account?
The Cricketer’s England Test Tracker keeps an eye on those most likely to feature, and those coming up on the rails for a place in the national team. Disclaimer: It is possible that this column might, on occasion, get things wrong.
1 - Joe Root: It would take something truly catastrophic for the England skipper not to make the team in the first Test. A return to Championship cricket gives him the opportunity to get himself into nick after a spring mostly spent tweeting about pocket sprung mattresses.
2 - Jimmy Anderson: Having passed 15,000 Test-match deliveries on the tour of New Zealand, the Burnley Express shows no signs of slowing up just yet. Shoo-in.
3 - Ben Stokes: Will not have played a jot of red-ball cricket by the time he flies back into the country from the IPL but, let’s be honest, that will hardly matter given he was an auto-select for the New Zealand series having barely picked up a bat since the Bristol incident.
4 - Jonny Bairstow: Certainly among the first names on the teamsheet, though where he will bat this summer is a more pertinent question. Set to return to the domestic fray this week along with Root.
5 - Alastair Cook: While it shouldn’t be a sin to debate whether or not the opener deserves his place at the top of the England order, it is positively blasphemous to say that there is a better option out there at present. His 84 on his first knock back in Essex colours against Hampshire at the Ageas, in which he claims to have felt at ease at the crease, means he has more runs than Mark Stoneman, Keaton Jennings or Haseeb Hameed, who have had four, five and five innings respectively. Case closed. For now.
TOP ENGLISH RUNSCORERS IN COUNTY CHAMPIONSHIP 2018Ollie Pope (Surrey) 237Ben Foakes (Surrey) 218Ben Brown (Sussex) 196Luke Wells (Sussex) 182Jordan Clark (Lancashire) 181
6 - Stuart Broad: When he’s not busy engaging in mid-wicket collisions with team-mates, Broad is picking up in the Championship where he finished off in New Zealand. Four scalps at little over 11 apiece against Worcestershire will have got his juices flowing, in addition to a handy contribution with the bat.
7 - Dawid Malan: It’s a quirk of the England winter’s tale that Malan (international average 30.95 from 21 innings) seems to have his ticket stamped for the Pakistan series while Mark Stoneman (18 innings, average 30.17) does not. A cheap dismissal at Lord’s against Glamorgan wasn’t quite the start he’d have hoped for as Middlesex captain, though thankfully no one was there to see it on a weekend which belonged slap bang in the run-up to Christmas.
8 - Jake Ball: Off to an absolute flyer, the seamer’s face has been popping up on Nottinghamshire’s Twitter feed more often than sildenafil adverts on a widower’s web browser, thanks to his flurry of wickets at the start of the Championship campaign. Twenty-one of them before May. Twenty-one. That’s hard to ignore, regardless of the overhead conditions.
9 - Chris Woakes: A bit-part player for Royal Challengers Bangalore in the IPL. That could count against him, with several bowlers doing the business in seam-friendly conditions back home.
10 - Moeen Ali: Sitting on his thumbs in the IPL while the likes of Liam Dawson and Amar Virdi make an impact back home will not help his cause, though he has said he aims to regain his place as a batsman first. Actually batting will help that cause.
11 - Mark Stoneman: The man who forced his way into the England setup through sheer weight of county runs has seen his Championship haul go on a strict diet at the start of the new term. Averaging 14.25 from four knocks, albeit against a couple of quality attacks, but could be saved by the fact that there does not seem to be a realistic, in-form alternative around.
12 - Ben Foakes: After shifting Lucozade bottles around the southern hemisphere for most of the winter, the keeper-batsman is making a point of getting busy quickly in Division One this year. A pair of classy innings against Hampshire showed a man in good nick, and he followed those up with a grittier, important half-century to see Surrey to a draw at Lancashire. If Bairstow is shifted up the order, could he take the gloves and bat seven? Or is he worth a shot at five anyway?
13 - Jamie Porter: Eventually, England are going to have to recognise that the county system has produced a bit of a gem and pick Essex’s warhorse right-armer, who destroyed Lancs at Chelmsford with zip and precision.
TOP ENGLISH WICKET-TAKERS IN COUNTY CHAMPIONSHIP 2018Jake Ball 21Ben Coad 17Ryan Higgins 17Tom Bailey 16Harry Gurney 16
14 - James Vince: Insert cover drive cliche here.
15 - Liam Dawson: Plenty of control with the ball at The Oval, albeit in a losing cause, and nine wickets already at 20.11 will give new national selector Ed Smith something to think about. Trevor Bayliss’s gut is a fan, too.
16 - Amar Virdi: One of the stand-out players in the early rounds of the County Championship season. Intelligent, thoughtful and incisive with the ball. A victim list including Chanderpaul and Amla in the English early-season is something to be marvelled at. We’d have him in just for his Imran Tahir-esque celebrations. Maybe it’s too soon.
17 - Mark Wood: After finally breaking into the Test team, much to everyone’s satisfaction, the Durham man became a Chennai Super Kings man and as such may have given up his chances of selection in the red-ball stuff, at least for the first part of the summer.
18 - Liam Livingstone: Didn’t get a look-in despite England being skittled for 58, so will need to improve on an early season which has brought him 125 runs at 25.
19 - Ben Coad: The Yorkshire bowler is unfortunate to be up against a raft of in-form quicks for any sort of international recognition. His 10-wicket haul against Notts was his second in just 14 Championship matches. He has added an in-ducker to his stock away-swinger and looks like a England prospect in the making. Gary Ballance agrees. “He’s a wicket-taker. There’s no reason why he can’t go further in his career,” said the Yorkies’ captain.
20 - Jack Leach: Currently holds the spinning spot but having only bowled 10 balls in the Championship in 2018, his chances of hanging onto his place rely quite a lot on what happens between now and May 24.
21 - Tom Curran: Another Englishman meandering through spring in the IPL.
22 - Rory Burns: One of a handful of possible alternatives to Stoneman at the top of the order, the Surrey skipper hasn’t breached 50 yet this term.
23 - Craig Overton: Rated in the England setup but with some work to do to get his nose in front of the high performers on the county circuit. Eight wickets at 22.38 so far.
24 - James Hildreth: We’d all love to see it but, let’s face it, it’s never going to happen. A glorious hundred against Worcestershire reminded us all of the dream, though.
25 - Josh Tongue: Worcestershire have had a difficult start to life back in the top tier but their young seamer is at least proving he can cut it with 11 wickets thus far, at 26.45 apiece.