Key players make brief county appearance
The ECB has released England's main quick bowlers, except Andrew Flintoff who is on IPL duty, and captain Andrew Strauss, for one Championship match each to prepare for the Test series against West Indies which starts on May 6.
The players who are heading to South Africa for the IPL will arrive back in the UK on May 1 but Strauss, along with pace bowlers James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Steve Harmison, will appear once in the lead up to the series. Anderson and Broad can play in the matches starting on April 21 against Sussex and Worcestershire respectively, while Harmison faces Yorkshire a day later.
The careful handling of Anderson and Broad is understandable after their considerable workload during the winter, but the Harmison case is different. He didn't over-exert himself in the one-day series, sending down 25 wicketless overs in a three-week period, after playing in just two of the Tests. He is far from a certain selection for the opening Test, but it is well known he benefits from miles in his legs and one match is likely to leave him short of ideal preparation.
Durham, the defending county champions, miss the opening round of matches and are instead playing Durham UCCE. However, there is a one-day game against Yorkshire on April 19 and another Championship game, against Somerset, from April 28.
Strauss, who was left out of England's World Twenty20 squad on Monday, is available for Middlesex against Leicestershire from April 28. Ian Bell, who spent the majority of the tour on the sidelines after being dropped following the Test defeat in Jamaica, is available for all Warwickshire's matches and will also appear for MCC against Durham at Lord's this week.
That match features Michael Vaughan in what is shaping as a battle for England's No. 3 spot. Owais Shah currently holds that position but didn't make the most of his opportunity in the West Indies and his next cricket is in the IPL. Alastair Cook's availability for Essex will be determined by his recovery from a broken finger he picked up in the nets last week.
Ryan Sidebottom and Graeme Swann will both be available for Nottinghamshire after their recovery from recent operations. Sidebottom underwent surgery on his troublesome Achilles shortly after leaving the West Indies tour in mid-March, while Swann also missed the one-day series to have some floating bone fragments removed from his right elbow.
Sidebottom is two to three weeks away from a return as he targeting the Championship game against Lancashire, on April 29, as his return but Swann's recovery could take slightly longer which makes him doubtful for the first Test against West Indies.
Swann's challenger for the spin berth, Monty Panesar, is available for all Northamptonshire cricket, while at the other end of the scale the only action Matt Prior will have before facing West Indies is a Friends Provident match against Gloucestershire on April 19.
Andrew Strauss - County Championship match against Leicestershire from April 28-May 1.
James Anderson - County Championship match against Sussex from April 21-24.
Stuart Broad - County Championship match against Worcestershire from April 21-24.
Steve Harmison - County Championship match against Yorkshire from April 22-25.
Matt Prior - Friend's Provident Trophy match against Gloucestershire on April 19.
Alastair Cook, Ian Bell, Monty Panesar, Samit Patel, Adil Rashid, Michael Vaughan, Luke Wright
Ryan Sidebottom, Graeme Swann
Kevin Pietersen, Andrew Flintoff, Owais Shah, Paul Collingwood, Ravi Bopara