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Aussies in county cricket: big opportunity for fringe names to push Test credentials

Several of Australia's red-ball specialists and fringe Test players are heading to England for the start of the County Championship season

Alex Malcolm
Alex Malcolm
02-Apr-2024 • Updated on 04-Apr-2024
Nathan Lyon will join Lancashire after previously playing at Worcestershire in 2017  •  Getty Images

Nathan Lyon will join Lancashire after previously playing at Worcestershire in 2017  •  Getty Images

While some Australians are at the IPL as they prepare for the T20 World Cup in June, several of the red-ball specialists and fringe Test players are heading to England for the start of the County Championship season. Australia will not play Test cricket again until the home summer starts in late November. Here are some of the more prominent Australian names to keep an eye on England over the northern summer.

Nathan Lyon - Lancashire

There was plenty of excitement in Manchester when Australia's offspinner was set to join forces with Jimmy Anderson to give Lancashire an attack boasting more than 1200 Test wickets. Lancashire could not believe their luck when Lyon committed to a full season. That excitement has since been tempered due to Lyon's decision to cut his stint in half and withdraw from the white-ball formats but it seems a shrewd move after Australia's selectors convinced him to look after his body ahead of the seven Tests in 2024-25 with five against India and two in Sri Lanka. Still, he will enjoy bowling at Old Trafford for half a season having only played four Championship games previously for Worcestershire back in 2017. It will be intriguing to watch him bowl in tandem at some stage with Anderson, providing a once-in-a-lifetime challenge for opposing batters.

Scott Boland - Durham

It looms as a big northern summer for Boland. He toured England in 2023 with Australia's Test team and his bowling was touted as 'tailor-made' for English conditions. He lived up to the billing in the WTC final against India but England's batters ran roughshod over him on flat pitches in two Ashes Tests. He has not played Test cricket since but remains the likely next man in if Josh Hazlewood or Pat Cummins were to miss through injury. He will play Championship and T20 Blast cricket for Durham until the end of July before heading home to prepare for the home summer. It will be interesting to see how he responds to playing regular cricket again. Boland made his name as a workhorse for Victoria but since playing for Australia, he has been on restricted duties. He is someone who likes to bowl a lot and could thrive at Chester-le-Street.

Marnus Labuschagne - Glamorgan

Labuschagne is headed back to his home away from home at Glamorgan for another Championship stint but he is not headed there until May after getting some well-needed rest at home in Brisbane. There have been suggestions within the Australian camp that Labuschagne could use an extended spell away from cricket given his preference to play year-round, and he has heeded that advice somewhat after finding some form at the back end of the New Zealand Test series. He knows how to score runs in the Championship having built a superb record for Glamorgan over four seasons, scoring eight hundreds in 26 matches and averaging 55.52. For Labuschagne, the English season will merely be about playing enough cricket to satisfy his needs to maintain his batting rhythm whilst not overdoing it ahead of an important home series against India where he will be needed to score big runs at No. 3 for Australia.

Matt Renshaw - Somerset

It looms as a huge couple of months for Renshaw and he is heading back to a place where he has had tremendous success. He played 14 matches for Somerset in Division One in the 2018 and 2022 seasons and piled up 1133 runs at 49.26 including five hundreds. He would love a return like that across the first seven games he is set to play this Championship season after a lean Sheffield Shield summer for Queensland. He was not given a Cricket Australia contract despite being the spare batter for the last two Test series against West Indies and New Zealand. Chair of selectors George Bailey has declared it is open season for the next batting spot that becomes available in Australia's Test XI and the selectors will be paying close attention to Championship form this year.

Marcus Harris - Leicestershire

The same applies for Harris after an equally lean season for Victoria. He lost his CA contract and was extremely frustrated to be overlooked for the Test opening spot that Steven Smith claimed when David Warner retired. Harris had long been the next cab off the rank having been the spare batter through the entire 2022-23 home Test summer and the 2023 tour of England. Some good fortune has fallen his way after he was not initially headed to England for the Championship season. Will Pucovski's withdrawal through injury paved the way for Harris to take his five-game stint at Leicestershire. Harris had an impressive spell with Leicestershire in 2021, piling up 655 runs at 54.58 in just 13 innings including three hundreds. He has an excellent first-class record in England overall. Although Leicestershire are in Division Two, Harris will get to play matches at Headingley and Lord's in his five-game stint, as well as two at Grace Road where he has scored three first-class centuries.

Cameron Bancroft - Gloucestershire

Bancroft was left equally aggrieved when he missed out on the Test opening spot post Warner's retirement having felt like there was nothing more he could have done in the Sheffield Shield. His first-class record in home conditions is excellent but in England, he has not been as prolific as Harris and Renshaw. He has the chance to rectify that this season at Gloucestershire. He heads over hungry for runs after missing Western Australia's Shield three-peat due to a bike accident. A good season for Gloucestershire would put a lot of pressure on Australia's selectors to move him to the front of the queue as the most rounded option of the three contenders for when a Test opening vacancy does come up.
Bartlett's signing with Kent looked like a coup for both the county and the Queenslander. He was due to arrive just weeks after gaining his first CA contract and is likely to play at least five Championship matches and eight T20 Blast matches in the early part of the season depending on fitness and workloads. However, on the eve of the season CA pulled him out of his four-day stint with Kent still awaiting confirmation of availability for the Blast matches. The caution is, perhaps, understandable given Bartlett's history with back injuries. He is already on track to be part of Australia's future white-ball plans and being talked off as a strong contender for the 2027 Ashes.

Michael Neser - Hampshire

Neser was billed as the forgotten man of Australian cricket after he lost his CA deal last week. But the reality is he remains high up in Australia's list of reserve Test quicks. The selectors showed how highly they regard him given he was the only spare quick available as a concussion substitute for the most recent Test in Christchurch. His batting and his fielding only add to his value and he will still be in the mix for the Australia Test summer if there are injury issues. Neser heads to a new county in Hampshire with nothing to prove after enjoying incredible success in recent seasons at Glamorgan with bat and ball. He has been signed mainly for an eight-game T20 Blast stint from May 30 to July 3 after an excellent BBL season with Brisbane Heat. But Hampshire could well pick him for some Championship cricket if there are any injuries to Kyle Abbott or Mohammad Abbas.
Other Australians going to England: Wes Agar (Kent), Sean Abbott (Surrey), Peter Handscomb (Leicestershire), Daniel Hughes (Sussex), Nathan McAndrew (Sussex), Ben McDermott (Hampshire - T20 Blast), Daniel Sams (Essex - T20 Blast), Chris Tremain (Northamptonshire), Ashton Turner (Durham - T20 Blast)Beau Webster (Gloucestershire)
*This story was updated after Xavier Bartlett's withdrawal from his Kent four-day deal

Alex Malcolm is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo