MCC v Champion County, Lords, April 8-11 March 24, 2005

Warwickshire face stiff task in curtain-raiser

Cricinfo staff

Matt Prior: an opportunity to impress ahead of the Ashes © Getty Images

Warwickshire, the County Champions, can expect a stiff test of their credentials when they take on MCC in the traditional curtain-raiser to the county season, at Lord's next month. MCC have named a strong squad for their four-day fixture that begins on April 8, and have included nine of the players currently impressing for England A on their tour of Sri Lanka.

The team will be captained by John Stephenson, MCC's Head of Cricket, and also includes the former Zimbabwe captain, Andy Flower, who is an honorary life member of the club, as well as Alistair Cook, the England Under-19 captain who played for MCC in the corresponding fixture against Sussex last season, and Mark Pettini, a member of the MCC-sponsored University Centre of Cricketing Excellence in Cardiff.

The major points of interest, however, surround the fringe candidates for Test selection against Bangladesh and Australia. Ian Bell, England A's captain, will be taking the field for Warwickshire, and is sure to be tested by the likes of Sajid Mahmood, who made his one-day debut for England last summer, and Jon Lewis, who was in the frame for a Test debut against South Africa at Centurion in January.

But perhaps the man with most to gain from this match is the wicketkeeper, Matt Prior, whose brave rearguard century in the second unofficial Test against Sri Lanka last week propelled him right into the thick of the wicketkeeping debate. With Geraint Jones's glovework under scrutiny and Chris Read's batting too fallible for an Ashes series, Prior could yet be the man to fill the breach.

"We are delighted that MCC will once again play the Champion County as the opening game of the first-class season," said Roger Knight, the secretary and chief executive of MCC. "It is particularly pleasing that we have been able to select this squad, the majority of whom have featured in the England A tour this winter. This will give them a good opportunity to re-adjust to English conditions. I am sure that the Warwickshire side will also be keen to get their season underway as they set out to defend the Championship title."

The match is the first to be played in front of the newly refurbished Pavilion at Lord's. Tickets will be available on the gates, priced at £12 for adults, £6 for U-16s and Senior Citizens.

MCC squad John Stephenson (ex-Essex, captain), Andy Flower (Essex, v-c), Alastair Cook (Essex), Paul Franks (Nottinghamshire), David Harrison (Glamorgan), Jon Lewis (Gloucestershire), Sajid Mahmood (Lancashire), Mark Pettini (Essex), Michael Powell (Glamorgan), Matt Prior (Sussex, wk), Owais Shah (Middlesex), Graeme Swann (Nottinghamshire).