England’s long and miserable Test winter is now long behind them and now is about looking forward.
We are now well into the groove of the County Championship season and ECB national selector Ed Smith will be casting his eye over the candidates who could have earned their place for the first Test squad against Pakistan, which is announced on 15th May.
England are under pressure after their Test failures across the globe against Australia and New Zealand and will be looking to regain some confidence and momentum going into a big summer of cricket.
So who are the front-runners to step out at Lord’s against Pakistan on the 24th May? Here are the certainties, the uncertainties, the leading candidates from county cricket, and those who may have missed their opportunity, for now at least.
Bar his huge 244 not out against Australia at Melbourne, Cook made only 155 runs from 10 innings at 15.5 in a horror winter for the former captain. However, he showed signs of a return to form with 84 for Essex against Hampshire earlier this month and should be at the top of the order against Pakistan.
Root looked in good touch throughout the winter without converting one of his seven fifties into a century, which remains a problem. He returned to county cricket with 0 and 35 for Yorkshire against Essex at Chelmsford.
Malan was one of the few England players that consistently impressed in Australia and New Zealand, and has continued his form into the County season with 289 runs from five innings, including two centuries. He is guaranteed to continue in the middle order for England this summer.
Likely to be England’s only Test starter currently playing in the IPL, Stokes has struggled to hit his best form since returning to the side in New Zealand this winter following his significant absence from the game before the turn of the year. Nevertheless, he is a crucial part of the England set-up and should slot in at number six against Pakistan.
The only England player to hit more than one century during the Test winter, Bairstow is in superb form in all forms of the game and will be key to England’s chances this summer, both behind and in front of the stumps.
After struggling for rhythm in Australia, Broad began to find his ‘mojo’ back in New Zealand and has started the county season in positive fashion, taking 14 wickets in three matches so far for Nottinghamshire.
After a much-needed break following a big workload in Australia and New Zealand, Anderson has only taken five wickets in two matches for Lancashire this season but is expected to be back to his best by the time Pakistan arrive at Lord’s later this month.
Without making a significant score to nail down his place, Stoneman has been promising, if yet convincing in Test cricket so far. He has regularly got off to good starts but has failed to go on. Will be looking over his shoulder at the form of Nick Gubbins and Keaton Jennings.
Like Stoneman, Vince looked promising at times this winter without making that elusive hundred. A Test average of 24.90 should be seen as not good enough but his final knock of 76 against New Zealand in Christchurch could earn him at least one more Test.
Had a very poor winter by his standards, taking 10 wickets at an average of 60.2, which led to him being dropped for the final Test in New Zealand. Is a much better bowler in English conditions, however, and his all-round capabilities should earn him a place back in the side.
After taking a sack load of wickets over the past two full seasons of county cricket, Leach finally earned a long-awaited Test call up for the last Test in New Zealand. Despite taking only two wickets, the left-arm off-spinner bowled with impressive control and offered a genuine wicket-taking threat. It will be interesting to see how Leach does this summer, should be keep his place in the Test side.
Endured arguably the worst winter out of all from the Test side, taking only five wickets at 126.8 and averaging just 18.81 with the bat. Is currently on IPL duty with Royal Challengers Bangalore and little, if any, county cricket this season is bound to count against him as he looks to return to the Test side this summer.
Front-runners from county cricket:
One of the leading contenders for a spot in the Test side, Burns has started this season strongly scoring 193 against Worcestershire at The Oval. He also made over 1,000 runs last year and his ability to bat long periods could be tempting for the selectors.
Like Burns, Gubbins has made a fine start to the county season, hitting 313 runs from four innings so far in Division Two. Gubbins has also performed well for the England Lions, and that could work in his favour, as the selectors like a player who has come through the system.
A player that the selectors rate very highly, Clarke started the new season in difficult fashion but has returned to form in fine style, compiling 157 against Surrey at The Oval and 105 for Worcester at home versus Essex. He spent a large part of the winter with the Lions and could be the man the selectors turn to in the middle order.
Despite not playing a Test all tour for England due to the excellent form of Jonny Bairstow, Foakes is still a man bound to be in and around the England side for years to come. He has been described as the ‘best wicket-keeper in the country’ by Surrey coach Alec Stewart and his batting looks in impressive order too. After averaging over 42 with the bat last summer, Foakes has already made 319 runs from seven knocks so far this season.
It seems English cricket is forming a resurgence in the spin bowling department and the early season form of Surrey’s Virdi is the latest to prove so. The off-spinner has taken 14 wickets from three matches at 18.85 so far this season and looks an enormous prospect in the near future.
Those who may have missed the boat:
After his mightily impressive entrance to Test cricket during England’s 2016 winter tour to India, things have gone downhill for Hameed. He made just 513 runs from 21 innings at an average under 30 last season for Lancashire and poor early season form this year led to him being dropped from the side for their draw with Somerset.
Was unlucky not to get a game in New Zealand after impressing with 88 in the first warm-up match. He earned his call-up to the tour following an excellent season with Lancashire last year but has started this campaign slowly, with a top score of only 48 from seven innings.
Bowled with plenty of heart in Australia and New Zealand and his continuous effort impressed quite a few. However, for a man so tall, Overton lacked any real pace to trouble opposition batsmen and it looks like the selectors will either return to the more tried and tested seamers or pick someone capable of bowling around 90mph.