The premature return of England’s IPL players means new selection supremo Chris Silverwood should be able to pick from a near full strength squad for the two-Test series next month against New Zealand.
But it also creates a dilemma.
This was a perfect chance to look at a couple of emerging players, like Sussex seamer Ollie Robinson who had been told to expect his chance against the Kiwis.
England’s IPL players such as Jos Buttler set to return home early due to Covid crisis in India
Chris Silverwood will be able to pick from a near full strength squad for New Zealand series
And how can Ben Foakes miss out now after his brilliant work in India just because Jos Buttler is coming home early?
There will still be scant time for red-ball match practice after quarantine for the IPL players ahead of the first Test at Lord’s on June 2.
Ben Stokes misses out through injury and there are concerns over the fitness of Dom Sibley, Jimmy Anderson and Jofra Archer.
So how about this as a possible first Test line-up? (But the World of Cricket reserves the right to change our mind over the next month!): 1 R Burns, 2 Z Crawley, 3 J Bracey, 4 J Root (capt), 5 O Pope, 6 D Lawrence, 7 B Foakes (wkt), 8 M Wood, 9 O Robinson, 10 S Broad, 11 J Leach.
England have special one in Pope
It was in Port Elizabeth nearly 18 months ago that Ollie Pope laid claim to be rated as England’s next great Test batsman with a century of rare class against South Africa.
Living up to the hyperbole has not been easy since then for Pope — not least in a Test series against India last winter that saw him manage a top score of only 34 — but there is early season evidence he is back on the road towards fulfilling his rich potential.
Pope, fully recovered from a second operation on his left shoulder, has already made a double century against Leicestershire and another hundred last week against Hampshire in Surrey’s overdue first win of the season.
Now, at 23, he not only looks ready to come of age in England’s highly challenging year of Test cricket ahead, but he could well become the first batsman since Graeme Hick in 1988 to reach 1,000 first-class runs before the end of May.
Surrey batsman Ollie Pope is back on the road towards fulfilling his rich potential
‘I’m a massive fan of his,’ said Surrey director of cricket Alec Stewart. ‘He’s a special talent and I’ll be amazed if he doesn’t become a special England player.
‘All the England players have to treat that series in India in isolation because of the surfaces they played on. They might not realise it now but they will all come back better players, including Ollie.
‘The little dip Popey had in India wasn’t good at the time but it has been good for his development. He has looked at it, thought how he would react next time and is going again. That double hundred and hundred show he wants to prove he’s a top player.’
Those runs have cemented Pope’s place for the first Test against New Zealand next month, but it is where he bats at Lord’s that will be fascinating. There were those who felt England were overly protecting him at six against India, particularly when the less experienced Dan Lawrence was thrown in at three for the first Test when Zak Crawley was injured.
‘This is only a guess, but Popey could be at five against New Zealand with Lawrence at six as there’s no Ben Stokes,’ said Stewart. ‘Let his bat talk for him. But he really does have rare ability.’
Three million reasons county cricket still appeals
The biggest success story of an outstanding start to the Championship season, given space to breath by the lack of any international cricket, may just have come off the field.
The county streams online that show every ball of every match are getting better and better and some, like Middlesex, now feature their own commentators in Adam Collins and Izzy Westbury.
Online streams showing every ball of every Championship match have been a big hit
The ECB say around 700,000 people are tuning in to every round so far, with viewing figures approaching three million after four rounds. Then there is ‘radio’ coverage on the BBC website by a brilliant broadcaster in Kevin Howells, who cares passionately about county cricket.
It is a modern way to follow the grand old lady of the domestic scene but it is proof that the audience for the Championship, behind closed doors or not, far outweighs the cliched two men and a dog.
Stevens still going strong at 45
The moment of the summer so far had been Matt Parkinson’s ‘ball of the century’ to Northants Adam Rossington for Lancashire at Old Trafford. Not any more.
Surely now it is the dismissal for 11 of Marnus Labuschagne, with a Test average in excess of 60, by the remarkable figure of 45-year-old Darren Stevens.
Kent bowler Darren Stevens celebrates the dismissal of Marnus Labuschagne
The little inswinger, at no more than 80mph, into the pad of the Glamorgan batsman might look more club than international cricket but it showed without question the enduring effectiveness and skill of Stevens, even in dry early season conditions.
‘Never in a million years did I think I’d still be playing,’ said Stevens on his birthday last week. ‘But I still love it and see no reason why I should stop just yet.’
Stevens will never play for England and could be said to be blocking the progress of a younger Kent player. Nonsense. There should be room in the game for him as long as he can still do a job. And who would bet against him raising a bat at Canterbury on his 50th?