England Test hopefuls gearing up for the return of the County Championship: Abell, Haines, Cook...

Ahead of the start of the County Championship season, we take a look at some England Test hopefuls looking to catch the eye.

With the England team in a state of flux, there will be greater attention than usual on this season's County Championship, which gets under way this Thursday.

A disappointing winter at international level has brought the all-too-familiar ECB 'review' with the Championship's value again called into question.

Yet, at least for now, it remains relevant in terms of selecting an England side.

As Surrey boss Alec Stewart - one of those doubtless on the ECB's radar to become their new director of cricket - said: "County cricket is a breeding ground for Test cricket. Over the years it produces good players and it will continue to produce good players."

So, who are those potential future England men to watch out for in the coming weeks and months?

Andy Schooler throws some names into the ring…

Tom Abell (Somerset)

Somerset captain Tom Abell talks to the media in April 2022

Abell has won plenty of plaudits for his captaincy at Somerset and given the current England crisis, there has been plenty of speculation that he could be the man fast-tracked into the Test XI as skipper, despite the fact he is yet to be capped.

It would be a brave and certainly controversial move but calls for it to happen would only become louder were the batting all-rounder to make plenty of runs on the bat-friendly Taunton pitch in the early weeks of the season.

Mike Brearley, rarely thought of a great batter, remains one of England's most revered captains. Could Abell follow in those footsteps?

Tom Haines (Sussex)

Since Alastair Cook's retirement, England's problems with their opening partnership have been well documented but perhaps Sussex star Haines could be the long-term answer.

The 23-year-old was the top scorer in last season's County Championship, albeit played in a different format to this year's, making 1,176 runs at an average of just over 47.

However, that effort failed to get him on the Lions' winter tour of Australia which perhaps helps show the regard in which the Championship is held by certain elements of the ECB.

With a new broom sweeping clean, Haines should at least have the chance to catch the right eye this term.

Sam Cook (Essex)

Sam Cook bowling for Essex in May 2021

Of the top six wicket-takers in last season's County Championship, seamer Cook is the only one aged under 33.

The 24-year-old has played a key role in an Essex team which has been the best in the country in three of the last five years and one which looks set to go well again in 2022. If so, and having been on the Lions tour, Cook will surely be part of the England conversation.

The problem may be that he's seen as a bowler who will go well in typical English conditions - Cook is a bowler who hits his spots well and can make the ball swing and seam - but isn't fancied as a tourist.

There was a similar issue with his county team-mate Jamie Porter, who did make the England squad back in 2018 but, after failing to break into the side, was then overlooked. Cook will hope to avoid such a fate.

Joe Clarke (Nottinghamshire)

Joe Clarke Notts Jul21

A quick Google search of Clarke's name will throw him up in this sort of article written four years ago when he was playing for Worcestershire.

Now at Notts under the tutelage of former England coach Peter Moores, the batter may yet get the opportunity to prove his chance has not been and gone.

A player who was compared favourably with Joe Root when he arrived on the county scene, a big reason for Clarke's career stutter was the chauvinist messages he sent team-mates which came to light during the rape trial of former team-mate Alex Hepburn.

The judge pointed out that Clarke, still only 25, had done nothing wrong on the night of attack but text messages he sent led to him being reprimanded and fined by the ECB.

Scoring Championship runs is the way he can attract England's attention again, although the fact that Notts will be in Division Two this season is another stumbling block.

Rob Yates (Warwickshire)

We're back to the top of the order here with Yates a rising star on the county scene.

The left-hander was Warwickshire's second-highest runscorer in last season's run to the Championship title, while he also pocketed a century in the final of the Bob Willis Trophy.

That form secured a place on the Lions' tour of Australia on which he was the second youngest member of the party.

The 22-year-old is clearly on the radar.

Matt Parkinson (Lancashire)

England would dearly love a spinner they could put absolute faith in. Remember the days of Graeme Swann? Even Moeen Ali.

Jack Leach may have 'possession' following the West Indies tour (11 wickets in three matches) but the fact he remains best known for his one not out with the bat at Headingley in 2019 says much.

The inclusion of Parkinson's slow leg spin would be a gamble but one with potential - the late Shane Warne, a master of the art, said last summer that he saw Parkinson "playing a huge part in Test cricket".

Ben Brown (Hampshire)

We're getting to the 'left field' part of this list but in difficult times, different decisions are often made.

Handing a 33-year-old his Test debut would certainly come under 'different' but Brown has consistently scored runs at Championship level - his first-class average over the past six years is more than 45.

Last season Brown made 976 Championship runs - only four England-qualified players scored more - and the man himself continues to talk of England selection being his career goal.

Stranger things have happened…

David Bedingham (Durham)

David Bedingham Durham Jul21

Finally, let's look at a player who won't be playing for England this summer - but could do so in the future.

In the 12 months to March, the Durham batter was first-class cricket's highest runscorer, Bedingham leaving a certain Marnus Labuschagne behind in second place.

While he made more than 1,000 Championship runs at an average north of 60, others were scored in his native South Africa, who may well come calling before Bedingham qualifies for England in 2024.

The man himself doesn't seem too bothered about which of the two he represents, saying recently "the main thing for me is to one day play Test cricket and see if I can cope or not".

Certainly one to keep an eye on in 2022 at the Riverside.

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