The English domestic season endured a damp start to proceedings on Friday. But, while rain threatens to dominate the opening round of fixtures in the County Championship, the lengthy schedule offers plenty of opportunities for players to press their claims for higher honours.
England's winter matched the April weather – miserable. The Ashes tour to Australia was a disappointment on the pitch and a PR disaster off it. Joe Root's Test side put up a better show in New Zealand, yet still fell to a series defeat.
There were two recurring themes during both trips abroad – a lack of big scores from the batsmen and an inability from the bowlers to take 20 wickets in a match.
England were hamstrung by squad selections on tour. They persisted with familiar faces, hoping – rather than expecting – for different outcomes. Now back at home, they can cast a wider net when they consider their options for two Tests against Pakistan, plus the five-match series with India that follows later in the calendar.
Coach Trevor Bayliss admitted at the end of the tour of New Zealand that places were up for grabs: "I want to see guys from county cricket putting pressure on the guys in the XI. There's no better pressure than from within and, if one or two of them are looking over their shoulder a little bit at the next guys, that's what we want."
So, who could make the step up over the coming months? We take a look at some untested options in the longest format who will hope to catch the attention of the national selectors.
THE BATTING DEPARTMENT
Brief summary: Alastair Cook made a double hundred in the drawn Test in Melbourne but has struggled for consistency. Skipper Root is a certainty, as is wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow. The jury is still out on Mark Stoneman and James Vince, but Dawid Malan has earned a little extra credit thanks to an Ashes ton in Perth.
Liam Livingstone - The spare batsman during the trip to New Zealand, Lancashire's new captain scored 803 first-class runs at an average of 47.24 in 2017. A right-hander with a desire to dominate attacks, Livingstone has played two T20 internationals for England but has yet to play a Test.
Joe Clarke - The Worcestershire batsman stood out with runs in the North v South series in the Caribbean prior to the domestic season, contributing scores of 46, 71 and 112. He gets the chance to impress in Division One this year too, following his county's promotion.
Sam Hain - The England Lions struggled while away in the Caribbean earlier this year, but Hain offered a beacon of light amidst the gloom. The Warwickshire right-hander was born in Hong Kong and raised in Australia, whom he represented at Under-19 level before moving to Edgbaston. Australia's loss could prove to be England's gain.
Dan Lawrence - The stylish Lawrence averaged 44.76 for champions Essex in four-day cricket last season, including three hundreds. Still only 20, his appearances for the England Lions suggests the selectors have taken note of his wristy technique.
Sam Northeast - At 28, Northeast is the senior name on this list of potential batting candidates. An off-season switch from Kent – where he scored over 1,000 first-class runs last season – to Hampshire provides the opportunity to demonstrate his abilities in the top tier. Time is still on his side, too.
Brief summary: James Anderson and Stuart Broad are still going strong, but England cannot rely on them forever. Mark Wood and Chris Woakes have struggled for fitness and form respectively, while Craig Overton has yet to nail down a place at the start of his international career. Toby Roland-Jones missed the Ashes through injury, as did fellow Middlesex bowler Steve Finn.
Jamie Porter - A star performer in Essex's unlikely title charge, seamer Porter claimed 75 wickets at 16.83 apiece for the champions. By no means quick, the seamer relies on movement, mostly off the pitch, to make inroads with the new ball. Pace is great, of course, but not at the expense of accuracy.
Jamie Overton - While brother Craig is the one to be capped at Test level by England so far, Jamie is viewed as the faster of the two twins. A stress fracture of the back hampered his 2017 so hopefully Somerset's Overton can stay healthy this year. Tall and strong, he is sharp enough to bother any batsmen.
Olly Stone - A serious knee injury hampered Stone after he a made the move from Northamptonshire to Warwickshire in 2016. Still, while he may have played just 24 first-class matches, his speed marks him out as one to look out for, even if the Bears are stuck in Division Two.
George Garton - How England would love their own Mitchell Starc. Left-arm pacemen who swing the ball back in to right-handed batters are like gold dust – so hopefully Sussex have unearthed one in Garton. The 20-year-old was called up as cover for a warm-up fixture early in the Ashes tour and will hopefully benefit from working under Jason Gillespie at Hove.
Josh Tongue- The 20-year-old picked up 47 Division Two wickets in 14 games as Worcestershire clinched promotion. A spell with the England Lions will surely have aided his development, while an ability to generate both pace and bounce could see him fast-tracked into the Test ranks.
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