It is a potentially massive few days for uncapped quintet Liam Livingstone, Mason Crane, Tom Curran, Craig Overton and Dawid Malan as they look to take their first steps in international cricket.
I have written previously about how exciting a prospect leg-spinner Crane is and the 20-year-old is tipped to make his England debut in their Twenty20 international with South Africa at the Ageas Bowl, Southampton – his home ground – on Wednesday evening.
Crane impressed over the winter playing for New South Wales in the Sheffield Shield – the first overseas player to represent an Australian state side since Imran Khan in 1985 – so hopefully he can continue to show the world what he can do.
Adil Rashid, England’s main spin option in one-day cricket, has proven what an asset he can be when he is bowling well so it’s great to have another emerge. Crane probably flights the ball better than Rashid and certainly has Test match potential.
But of all of the five players bidding for a first England start, the opportunity is probably greatest for Middlesex all-rounder Malan, who turns 30 in September. If he doesn’t grab his chance now, there might not be another.
Even if he gets a couple of good scores in this series, he’ll probably still find it difficult to force his way into England’s one-day plans given the level of competition. Jonny Bairstow has been in sparkling form yet has struggled to get picked.
But all Malan can do is put runs on the board and ensure his name is in the hat for future series. Putting his hand up during the three-match tussle with South Africa would also press his case for participation in the next edition of the Indian Premier League, for instance.
All things considered, it’s an opportunity which needs grasping. For the other four potential debutants, the oldest of which is 23, if they don’t succeed first time they will probably get another chance. That might not apply to Malan.
It’s a shame, really. He has posted some wonderful innings for the England Lions in recent years and if he’d found this form a few years ago when England were crying out for better limited-overs players, he would probably have knocked on the door much sooner.
Malan has had a number of good, consistent seasons without ever having that campaign which screams “pick me” to the selectors, but he is probably at an age now where he is more confident in his game.
I played against him plenty of times, more so in red-ball cricket, and he is a very solid player. He provides a left-handed option in the batting line-up and can also bowl useful leg-spin.
He doesn’t hit the ball miles but can clear the ropes and has been a shining light in Middlesex’s white-ball batting line-up at times. Good luck to him because he deserves his chance in an England shirt.
These, however, are not the only selection issues to be considered over the coming days as the Lions play South Africa A at Canterbury where openers Haseeb Hameed, Keaton Jennings, Mark Stoneman and Nick Gubbins are all under the spotlight.
The foursome are effectively battling it out for the right to partner former skipper Alastair Cook at the top of England’s batting order in the first Test of summer at Lord’s, which starts on 6 July.
Hameed and Jennings both had productive winters with England in India but have struggled for consistent runs this summer. Hameed is yet to make a half-century in the County Championship, while Jennings has not reached 50 in his last nine red-ball innings.
While other spots in the team might be available to these players, I believe Stoneman, who has hit three centuries for Surrey this campaign, is winning the race to open with Cook. The next few days will be very interesting.