England places are up for grabs in the early part of the 2018 County Championship season, as agenda-setters such as Trevor Bayliss and Peter Miller have highlighted. Who’s advancing their case and who’s slipping down the pecking order?
Granted, it wasn’t a happy Round 1 for many batsmen, but with scores of 20 and 15 against Hampshire, Clarke did his growing case for England inclusion little good on an Ageas Bowl strip that provided a fairly even contest between bat and ball. That said, he did get starts against an internationally seasoned bowling attack and his second-innings dismissal – lbw to a nip-backer from Kyle Abbott – could have been a bit high. Will surely remain firmly on the radar after his performances in the North-South series, but will need significant first division runs if he’s to force his way in by May.
On an otherwise tricky first morning with the bat, Vince looked as though he was playing a different game from the rest as he breezed his way to a better than run-a-ball 75 against Clarke’s Worcestershire. Studded with crisp boundaries, his knock, significant in the context of the match, certainly caught the eye in the usual way.
But did it prove anything new? Just when everything looked easy he was clean bowled by the wiles of 38-year-old Steve Magoffin and in the second innings was out for 12 – yep, you guessed it – caught at slip attempting a big drive. His 76 for England in Christchurch kept him firmly in the mix and a shift in the balance of the side is perhaps the likeliest thing to deprive him of his place at this stage. Alastair Cook says Vince “played incredibly well for that 70-odd in the second innings, making batting look ridiculously easy. The amount of talent that guy has, he certainly seems worth persevering with”.
After Hampshire’s coup in securing the former Kent captain’s signature, scores of 17 and 4 on debut for his new county came as a disappointment. Though it’d be harsh to suggest he can’t cope with the rigours of division one given that his opponents Worcestershire are newly promoted from the second tier themselves.
Neither quite one thing nor the other in his England career so far, Stoneman has not yet had a chance either to rack up runs or notch up noughts on the domestic circuit. He and Surrey will get their Championship campaign underway against Hampshire at The Oval on Friday and, after the signing of Dean Elgar as a replacement for Mitchell Marsh as overseas player, he might have his work cut out just to get into his favoured position for his county side. One of Elgar, Stoneman and new Surrey captain Rory Burns, specialist openers all, will have to bat at No.3. Either way, after his examination by fast, short-pitched bowling down under over the winter, it’ll be fascinating to see how Stoneman fares in more familiar, if equally challenging, conditions.
While Harry Gurney and Jake Ball ripped through Lancashire to win Nottinghamshire’s game at Old Trafford, the most eye-catching bowling performance of the opening round came from Warwickshire’s Olly Stone. The 24-year-old paceman joined the county for 2016 but injury has kept his contribution limited until now. Against Sussex at Edgbaston he showed genuine pace the like of which is rarely seen in county cricket. While seamers throughout the land were nibbling it about off a length at medium-pace, Stone was running in hard and troubling batsmen against the short ball as part of a sensational 8-80.
While Stone still needs to prove himself on a consistent basis, he has been on England’s radar in the past and seems just the sort of bowler they were missing throughout their troubled winter. Keep an eye on him.
The 24-year old scored just 8 in his one innings during Warwickshire’s rain-affected draw with Sussex. Has a way to go to become anything other than an outside shot after a disappointing 2017 in red-ball cricket.
The 20-year-old tearaway Josh Tongue took two in each innings for Worcestershire in Southampton. While he didn’t enjoy the wicket-taking success of other competitors for England’s attention, the youngster didn’t look out of place at any stage against a batting line-up boasting a host of internationals including Hashim Amla, whom he dismissed lbw in the first innings.
We’ll be monitoring the progress of an array of England hopefuls throughout the opening weeks of the county season in England Watch.