It’s an absolute treat to be previewing cricket games again, and with England’s intra-squad practice match getting underway tomorrow, we’re taking a closer look at five men who will be looking to impress.
With the ECB set to stream the game on their website, everyone will be able to take a look at England’s red-ball prospects for the summer. There will be no Joe Root but despite the skipper’s absence, it promises to be a really interesting spectacle…
The first man on our list is Zak Crawley, and that’s not because he’s done anything wrong. Far from it; he impressed during his first Test series, consistently improving as he learnt on the job. Initially drafted in as a temporary replacement for the injured Rory Burns, his performances in South Africa have really given the selectors something to think about.
With Burns likely to come back in and Dom Sibley certain to keep his spot, Crawley could find himself battling for the number three spot. He and Joe Denly seem to be the most likely candidates to bat there as it stands but a strong performance from either in the warm-up game could go a long way to making that decision.
Following a break from the Test match arena, Mo’s back. The Worcestershire man is ready to fight for his place once again, but he’ll face stiff competition from Dom Bess, Jack Leach, and newcomer Amar Virdi.
If Mo is feeling refreshed and has managed to renew his enthusiasm for the red-ball game, he could well force his way into England’s plans. Bess currently has possession, while Leach performed well in last summer’s Ashes; Moeen will have to prove that he’s the right man for the job ahead of those two if he is to become a part of this English summer.
Many feel that Ben Foakes should already be in possession of the gloves in Test cricket. If he manages to put in a good performance behind the sticks on Wednesday and can add a few runs to his exploits too, then he’ll remind the England hierarchy of his enduring qualities.
Competition for that wicketkeeping spot is rather stiff at the moment. The obvious qualities of Jos Buttler and Jonny Bairstow remain, while Gloucestershire’s James Bracey will also be hoping to throw a spanner in the works. Foakes, however, has done very little wrong over the past couple of years. His ability with the gloves is undeniable, but if he can prove his worth as a lower-order batsman then he’ll be difficult to overlook for much longer.
While Zak Crawley will be looking to retain his place in England’s top order, Dan Lawrence will be keen to become the side’s latest debutant. With Root set to miss the first Test due to the arrival of his second child, it looks as though there’s another batting spot up for grabs.
Lawrence is still only 22 and has already experienced a few ups and downs on the county circuit. He bounced back last year as he helped Essex to their second County Championship title in as many years and is again being touted as the country’s next big thing. With Denly, Crawley, Bairstow, and Lawrence all names in the hat for numbers three and four, Wednesday’s friendly could go a long way in deciding the top order for that first Test.
England’s 30-man squad has a lot of very good pace bowlers. Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad are two of the best to ever grace a cricket field, while Jofra Archer, Chris Woakes, and Mark Wood all have unbelievably good credentials.
That’s not where it ends, though. Behind the five seamers who have already left their mark on Test cricket is another group of spritely young quicks, all eager to show what they’ve got. Saqib Mahmood, Jamie Overton, and Olly Robinson will all be desperate to impress, but there’s one man who the English public have already been able to sample. Olly Stone bowled with excellent pace and control in England’s only Test match against Ireland last summer, and could well find himself pushing some of the national side’s regulars over the course of the season.
If he can ruffle the feathers of some of England’s finest batsmen, he may well be able to take his place alongside England’s established quintet. He’s quick, he gets movement, and he takes wickets. What’s not to love?
How to watch
As mentioned at the start, it is understood that you can follow England’s warm-up game from tomorrow morning on the ECB website. Regardless of the context, it will be a real treat to watch some high-quality live cricket again. The fact that Jimmy Anderson could be up against Ben Stokes just makes it all the more fascinating!