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.
|Kovac relieved by Bayern´s timely victory|
|Strasbourg 2 Monaco 1: Sy howler and Grandsir red card cost Henry in first match|
|Leicester City defender Chilwell signs new six-year contract|
|PSG´s Tuchel hopes Verratti and Di Maria can face Napoli|
|Liverpool star Salah had no fear during scoring drought|
|Alonso´s 2019 plans not damaged by McLaren´s IndyCar decision|
|Edinburgh outclass troubled Toulon, Wasps and Bath play out thrilling draw|
|Barca concern as Messi substituted with worrying arm injury|
|Howe: South coast derby draw a fair result|
|Our heads were in Manchester – Allegri left fuming at Juventus´ loss of focus|
|Derby County 2 Sheffield United 1: Marriott blunts Blades with 77th-minute winner|
|We have so many problems – Jokanovic alarmed by Fulham defensive woes|
|Huddersfield Town 0 Liverpool 1: Salah snaps winless streak|
|Pellegrini ruing injuries after Yarmolenko hurts ankle|
|Villarreal 1 Atletico Madrid 1: Simeone´s side denied LaLiga top spot|
|Gracia: Not easy to dominate Wolves like that|
|Isner´s Finals hopes hindered by Stockholm defeat|
|Dyche incredulous at refereeing decisions in Man City thrashing|
|Juventus 1 Genoa 1: Champions´ winning run ends despite record Ronaldo goal|
|´Fantastic´ Lamela urged to find consistency by Pochettino|
|You don´t want to lose any players - Young speaks out on Wade NFL speculation|
|Championship Review: Smith gets off to a winning start, Leeds beaten|
|Guardiola hails extraordinary Fernandinho after Burnley drubbing|
|Pochettino lauds Lloris as one of world´s best after West Ham heroics|
|Paris Saint-Germain 5 Amiens 0: Ten wins in a row for PSG as Neymar rests|
|Cristiano Ronaldo nets record 400th league goal|
|Marcelo backing beleaguered Lopetegui despite Madrid slump|
|Garcia dazzles to hit the front at shortened Valderrama Masters|
|Cardiff City 4 Fulham 2: Paterson gets Bluebirds off the mark|
|Newcastle United 0 Brighton and Hove Albion 1: Benitez´s men bottom after dismal defeat|
|West Ham 0 Tottenham 1: In-form Lamela settles London derby|
|Manchester City 5 Burnley 0: De Bruyne returns in comfortable win|
|Wolves 0 Watford 2: Capoue and Pereyra turn form book on its head|
|Bournemouth 0 Southampton 0: Howe´s side stifled by Saints|
|Prove you´re crazy about Inter - Spalletti rallies players ahead of Milan derby|
|Wolfsburg 1 Bayern Munich 3: Lewandowski leads Kovac out of trouble|
|Goerges betters Bencic to clinch Luxembourg title|
|Morgan wants more from ´rusty´ England despite series win|
|Sarri says sorry after touchline bust-up overshadows Chelsea´s late escape|
|Chelsea draw an ´awful´ result for excellent United, says Mourinho|
|The Chelsea assistant that angered Mourinho - Who is Marco Ianni?|
|Steve Kerr supports Colin Kaepernick: ´I think he deserves a chance to play´|
|Lopetegui ´more motivated than ever´ amid Real Madrid sack reports|
|That´s football – Rudiger shrugs off late Ianni-Mourinho fracas|
|AC Milan´s improved mentality could be difference against Inter - Gattuso|
|Emotional Kasatkina comes back from the brink to win Kremlin Cup|
|Forget it, it´s over - Mourinho accepts apology over touchline row|
|Mourinho in furious bust-up with Chelsea staff after late equaliser|
|Chelsea 2 Manchester United 2: Barkley strike denies Mourinho|
|Raptors star Kawhi Leonard: Too early for MVP chants|
|WTA Finals 2018: Profiling the ´elite eight´|
|Cipriani sent off and facing ban for high tackle|
|Real Madrid 1 Levante 2: Lopetegui on the brink as abysmal run continues|
|Warriors coach Kerr: Jerebko ´one of us´ after game-winning tip-in|
|Real Madrid break record for longest goalless run|
|England wrap up ODI series in Kandy rain|
|Melbourne Victory 1 Melbourne City 2: Honda scores but suffers losing start|
|Mata starts for United as Chelsea boss Sarri selects Morata|
|Dovizioso prepared for another Marquez duel|
|Isco returns as Bale makes the bench for Real Madrid|
|Maddison feeling at home with Puel´s Foxes|
|Ruthless Australia beat Tonga in historic Test|
|Pep talks helped Mendy make the most of his time out of action|
|Wantaway Butler revels in boos|
|Emery: Arsenal must be calm with returning Koscielny|
|Sevilla don´t fear Messi or Barca – Kjaer|
|Conte, Zidane and the AC Milan contenders clouding Gattuso´s future|
|Koepka in control in South Korea, on track to become world number one|
|Dovizioso grabs pole at Motegi, Marquez sixth|
|Langer backs Marsh for ODI squad|