Chris Adams has appropriately named a 12 man squad to kick off the 2012 pre-season schedule with a two day game against Essex at Chelmsford. Shorn of a few regulars including Mark Ramprakash and Gareth Batty who are due to jet off soon to Abu Dhabi for the MCC game, and Gary Wilson who is away with Ireland, there's plenty of room for some youngsters to make an impression ahead of the first Championship game. Jacques Rudolph remains with South Africa until the the third test in Wellington ends around the 27th.
The following 12 players have been named:
I would guess Chris Adams has eight names already pencilled onto the teamsheet to face Sussex on the 5th of April. The top five of Hamilton-Brown, Rudolph, Ramprakash, de Bruyn and Maynard are almost certain to start, and barring a spectacular pre-season Rory Burns will probably make way for Gary Wilson when he returns (Steven Davies is away with England). Jade Dernbach is very likely to make the cut, so too Tim Linley who should be given a fair crack of the whip at the top level having had such an outstanding 2011.
That leaves three spare spots, with Gareth Batty, Stuart Meaker, Chris Jordan, Jon Lewis and Jason Roy all in with a very loud shout. Again, this is of course barring a stellar performance from one or all of Harinath, Spriegel, Lancefield or Edwards - but to leapfrog any of the previous five the performance will really have to be special to make it into the Championship first XI.
So Chris Adams has a tough job on his hands. With Batty and Jordan absent for now, Meaker, Lewis and Roy are in the box seats to challenge in this first pre-season game. Much may depend on the conditions at the Oval for the Sussex game, but I would be very surprised if Adams went into that game without a spinner, which makes Gareth Batty a very strong favourite to bag one of the three spots on offer despite not being present for all of pre-season.
So now we're down to two spare spots. Adams ended last season with Jason Roy at number six and Chris Jordan at number eight, but I think they'll probably be fighting over one spot. Roy or Jordan is a very tough call and Jordan's form in the Caribbean where he's taken 10 wickets in his last two games for Barbados may give him the edge. For what it's worth I'd go with Roy and have de Bruyn bowl some fill-in overs. He might not have nailed down beyond all doubt his place in the Championship first XI last season, but his talent is beyond question. What better way for him to improve his innings-building skills than against Division One attacks?
The final spot then could come down to a straight choice between Lewis and Meaker, the young tyro and the gnarled old pro (sorry Jon). Meaker is the man in possession having ended last season strongly with fifteen wickets in the last three matches, but he has had a spot of back trouble recently and Adams may be wary of throwing him straight in. If Meaker makes it through a few testing pre-season bowling spells I think Adams will go with him, and sign of an injury and Lewis will be straight in.
A few side-shows then to the pre-season games. The battle for first team spots and a great opportunity for a few of our younger players to stake a claim for first team cricket. I'm just happy to have domestic cricket back in my life, I've missed you old buddy!