THIS season has offered an unprecedented opportunity for players to stake a claim for the summer Test matches through weight of runs and wickets in the County Championship.
With effectively 10 rounds of Championship games prior to the one-off Test against Ireland later this month, followed by the Ashes, there has never been a better time for county cricketers to come to the fore.
With another couple of rounds to go before the Ireland Test, it would seem an opportune moment to cast an eye over the various runners and riders.
Just who has been/is performing well enough to come under serious discussion for a Test place?
The bowling, of course, looks settled enough, with James Anderson and Stuart Broad still going strong and with Mark Wood now happily recovered from injury. Jofra Archer must surely be given his chance, however, after some splendid performances at the World Cup.
Ballance should still play for me, along with Warwickshire’s Dominic Sibley, who is the First Division’s leading run-scorer with 922 from eight matches at 70.92.Chris Waters
Various bowlers are knocking on the door around the shires, not least Yorkshire’s Ben Coad, but it is in the batting department where most of the places are up for grabs, specifically in positions one, two and three.
England’s one-two-three in their last Test against West Indies in February was Rory Burns, Keaton Jennings and Joe Denly. None, however, have made a compelling case to face Ireland at Lord’s from July 24, followed by Australia in the five-Test series that starts at Edgbaston on August 1.
Burns, who missed Surrey’s defeat to Yorkshire at Scarborough through illness, may well keep his spot through England’s natural tendency towards cautious selection, despite having managed just two half-centuries in his 12 Test innings. Burns has done okay, scoring 505 runs in six Championship games at an average of 42.08.
To put that into context, though, Yorkshire’s Adam Lyth has a superior average (46.38), with the only thing missing from Lyth’s CV being a three-figures score; he has hit six half-centuries, more than anyone else in the First Division.
Jennings is “unselectable”, to borrow the expression once used by Ashley Giles of Steven Finn, having managed just 260 runs in eight games for Second Division Lancashire at 23.63.
Denly has played just four games for Kent following his stint with Kolkata Knight Riders in the Indian Premier League, registering the unpersuasive return of 233 runs at 38.33.
Jason Roy simply has to play, whether as an opener or at No 3, following his form for England’s white-ball side. Roy is too good to be overlooked any longer for Test cricket, and his attacking style is exactly the sort of thing needed to “take it to the Aussies”, who would probably be more worried by Roy alone than by Burns, Jennings and Denly combined.
A personal view, oft-repeated, is that Joe Root should bat at No 3, which would solve a multitude of problems, not least in allowing Yorkshire’s Gary Ballance (727 runs in eight games this year at 60.58) to come in lower down the order.
Ballance should still play for me, along with Warwickshire’s Dominic Sibley, who is the First Division’s leading run-scorer with 922 from eight matches at 70.92.
Dawid Malan, Zak Crawley and Sam Northeast will have supporters, but, if Root will not budge from No 4, my top-three for the Ireland Test would be Sibley, Roy and Ballance.