KEEPING LORD'S WORLD CLASS
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With England’s Test series against Sri Lanka fast approaching attention is turning to the battle to replace Paul Collingwood at number six.
Collingwood retired from Test cricket following England's successful Ashes defence in Australia.
Ravi Bopara and Eoin Morgan are the leading candidates for the open batting spot and competition will be fierce ahead of the first Test on 26 May.
Whoever earns the nod is likely to benefit from an extended run in the side, including the second Test at Lord’s - starting on Friday 3 June.
England’s success under Andy Flower and Andrew Strauss has been built upon stability and pragmatism - leading to the assumption that Morgan or Bopara are next in line.
Morgan toured Australia as a reserve during the recent Ashes series and played all six home Tests in 2010, making a century against Pakistan at Trent Bridge.
Bopara hasn’t played a Test since the 2009 Ashes when a dramatic loss of form led to him being dropped in favour of Jonathan Trott for the final Test at the Oval.
He turned down the chance to play in the money-spinning IPL tournament, stating his intention to regain a place in the Test side this summer though, and his useful medium pace bowling may tip the balance for the selectors.
The Young Guns
Though modern England are reluctant to chop and change their batting order with the regularity that was commonplace in the 1990s, they will have their eye on several other batsmen on the county scene.
A host of uncapped players are be queuing up behind Morgan and Bopara ready to put their names forward should England come calling.
Near the top of that list is James Hildreth, who captained England Lions in the West Indies this winter. He has scored prolifically for Somerset over a number of seasons.
The 26-year-old right-hander was England Lions' top run-scorer in the Caribbean with 546 runs at an average of 60.66.
Also impressing was Leicestershire's James Taylor, a man thought of by many as the best young batsman in England.
Despite being just 21 Taylor has already enjoyed three prolific seasons in county cricket. He has started this season in prolific form smashing a career high 237 against Loughborough MCC University.
On the rise
Ben Stokes, who made his Durham debut against MCC in the 2010 Champion County fixture, is another big-hitting young player tipped to push for a place in the near future.
The 19-year-old left-hander has the added dimension of some useful medium pace bowling and toured the West Indies under Hildreth’s captaincy earlier in 2011.
Others, including Varun Chopra of Warwickshire and former MCC Young Cricketer Dawid Malan have also made strong starts to 2011.
Another former 'YC', Alex Hales, has also caught the eye this season scoring runs at the top of the order for reigning county champions Nottinghamshire.
Former England captain Michael Vaughan recently watched the 6'5" 22-year-old right-hander, describing him as "a proper player" after Hales notched scores of 85 and 83 against Vaughan's beloved Yorkshire.
Another one to watch.
You choose the side
Working on the assumption England will maintain the consistency of selection shown throughout the Ashes we predict England's Test XI for the first Test against Sri Lanka will be:
Andrew Strauss *
Matt Prior †
* Denotes captain
† Denotes wicket-keeper
Now you make your pick for that crucial spot at number six. Will you go for Morgan? Or will Bopara's bowling tip the balance? Perhaps you think someone else deserves a chance?