MCC v Warwickshire, Lord's April 8, 2005

Season starts with a washout



All covered up: no play at Lord's as winter fails to depart © Getty Images
The forecast was for snow, and while it was not a complete white-out, it was a washout at Lord's on the opening day of the first-class season. The main action for the day was the opening of the restored pavilion and it was a false dawn when John Stephenson, captaining the MCC, and Nick Knight, leading the county champions, managed to dodge the showers for the toss. Warwickshire will bat first tomorrow - if the skies clear - and the forecast is better for the weekend

This fixture was resurrected last summer, in an attempt to give the English summer a clear and notable start and though the season tends to creep up, rather than explode into action, the match itself is actually quite an enticing prospect: Warwickshire, including Ian Bell - who will want to nudge, or more likely flatten, the selectors with an early season run-glut - take on a select XI largely consisting of England A players who have recently returned from a gruelling examination in Sri Lanka.

England may have a settled Test line-up, but there are a couple of places that may come under scrutiny during the summer. The most interesting of these is the wicketkeeper, after Geraint Jones's less-than-convincing display in South Africa. There is no doubt that Jones will be selected, and will prove more than adequate against Bangladesh, but unless he sharpens up his glovework, he could well cost England a Test match, and who would bet against it happening against Australia? While most of the keeper debate has centred on Chris Read or James Foster as Jones's main rivals, another candidate has rushed up on the blindside. Matt Prior had a superb tour of Sri Lanka and suddenly is the next contender. His performance at Lord's will be watched with particular interest, and a repeat of the century that Foster scored in last year's fixture will do him no harm.

This is no random selection of county has-beens. In a packed international season, the chances of injury are high, particular among the bowlers, and each of MCC's four seamers have a stake to claim. Sajid Mahmood had a disappointing 2004 and a chastening ODI debut at Bristol against New Zealand, and this is a chance to earn a second crack at international cricket, although the next paceman in line is Gloucestershire's Jon Lewis. After being called up ahead of the fifth Test in South Africa - and nearly winning a first Test cap - he is an ideal bowler to exploit the early-season conditions. Glamorgan's David Harrison is more of an outside bet for this summer, but is certainly one for the future with his good pace and bounce.

With one batting spot yet to be set in stone for the Test side, Bell will not be the only batsman trying to catch the eye, and the fact that his talent is already well-known makes two of MCC players more intriguing prospects. Alastair Cook, the Essex opener, was a last-minute pick for the Sri Lanka tour, after Kevin Pietersen was withdrawn, and impressed in tough conditions. He is a tall right-hander and his allround game has developed well under the watchful eye of Graham Gooch. Michael Powell, the Glamorgan version, is the other batsman who may feature in discussions. It will take a fair few injuries to get him into the England set-up, but then the Australians are about to land.

While the international hopefuls are all eyeing a chance to take on the Australians, the series doesn't start for another three months. There is a chance for county cricket to shine and this match will give a snapshot of the talent that exists. It may not have the glamour attached to England v Australia at Lord's, but the county game deserves to be appreciated. First, though, it needs to stop raining, and a few degrees warmer would not go amiss either.

MCC Alastair Cook, Andy Flower, Michael Powell, Owais Shah, John Stephenson (capt), Matt Prior (wkt), Mark Pettini, Graeme Swann, Sajid Mahmood, David Harrison, Jon Lewis

Warwickshire Nick Knight (capt), Mark Wagh, Ian Bell, Jonathan Trott, Michael Powell, Alex Loudon, Dougie Brown, Tony Frost (wkt), Heath Streak, Nick Warren, Dewald Pretorius

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