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Race to Lord's: Who'll play in the first Test?

Yorkshire's Gary Ballance is likely to feature at Lord's against Sri Lanka
Yorkshire's Gary Ballance is likely to feature at Lord's against Sri Lanka

There are now just six short weeks until England are playing Test cricket again and with the team more undecided than I am when faced with a selection of cream cakes, there’s a lot to discuss.

There are some players who appear to have made themselves dead certs, others who are still to make a compelling case. Here’s a look at the fortunes of a septet who are hoping to make a Test spot their own this summer.

Sam Robson

Not so much a bandwagon, the clamour for Robson to make the step up to Test cricket is now an out of control juggernaut careering down a steep incline.

He made a strong case for his inclusion over the winter with three first-class hundreds for England Lions and he has furthered his claims this season with 300 runs at an average of 60 from his first three matches for Middlesex.

A daddy hundred against Notts attracted most attention but perhaps his most impressive innings to date was his fluent 77 playing second fiddle to Chris Rogers in the mammoth run-chase against Yorkshire that saw his side make almost 500 to win the game.

It’s as much the ease with which he has made runs as the amount he has scored that makes him a near certainty for a Test debut on his home ground in June.

Robson: I'm ready for Test cricket

Gary Ballance

As the Ashes tour reached its embarrassing denouement, Ballance played his first Test. He had an inauspicious debut, making just 25 runs in two innings, and after a decent start to the ODI series, making 79 at the MCG, he rather faded away.

The feeling was he hadn’t done quite enough to retain his place but an excellent run of form to start the season has seen him become an almost certain Test inclusion.

He began with a ton against the Leeds/Bradford students and hasn’t looked back. His innings of 174 against Northamptonshire was a superb effort, coming to the crease with his side 57/3 but pushing Yorkshire past 400 to set up an innings win.

He is belligerent and attacking in nature, as shown in his 143-ball 130, which featured six sixes, in the defeat to Middlesex. With a rather prosaic England top three, Ballance should add some impetus from the middle order.

Finnx300Steven Finn

I had a friend that borrowed my bike when I was a kid.

He returned it broken and then had the cheek to ask if he could use it again once I’d got it fixed.

If England recall Steven Finn for the first Test of the summer, Middlesex head honcho Gus Fraser might well have some empathy with my plight all those years ago.

Finn came home from Australia a broken man, having fallen "out of love" with cricket, but he’s started this season with the vim and vigour that saw him become the youngest Englishman to reach 50 Test wickets.

He has taken at least four wickets in every innings so far, his best return of 6-80 coming against Sussex in the opening round. 

His county captain Chris Rogers has urged England to give him time to "develop as a person and a bowler", but they may find him hard to resist.

Chris Jordan

Jordan was one for the few bright sparks from the disaster this winter.

His move from Surrey to Sussex ahead of last season seemed to rejuvenate him and he has done enough to make himself a realistic option for the Test squad.

His 61 first class wickets in 2013 were impressive and he has begun this year in similar fashion.

His spell against Warwickshire of 3/15 was instrumental in Sussex bowling out their hosts for just 87, with ESPNcricinfo’s George Dobell describing it as the best performance he had seen from a non-Test bowler for several seasons.

Allied with his fast, aggressive bowling, Jordan is a capable batsman and supreme fielder. His all-round qualities put him firmly in contention.

James Taylor

Those campaigning for the inclusion of Taylor have had little to boost their armoury so far this season.

While 120 runs at an average of 30 is hardly disastrous, they’re not the kind of numbers that will allow him to keep pace with the leading pack.

His fantastic winter with England Lions, that saw him score a career best 242no, left those of us who have long championed the Nottinghamshire man hopeful that this could be the season in which he nails down a middle-order Test spot.

He made a decent start to the Championship season with 62 against Middlesex, but there’s not been much to speak of since then as several of his rivals have played headline-catching knocks.

Oh, and he is quite short. That never gets mentioned enough.

Simon Kerrigan

After a disastrous Test debut at the end of last summer, Kerrigan went into this season with plenty to prove, not least to himself.

The fact his former coach at Lancs, Peter Moores, has taken charge of England could work to his benefit as he seeks a second chance.

Green early-season pitches, damp balls and cold weather numbing the fingers traditionally make life hard for spinners but, despite this, Kerrigan has made a decent start.

The slow left-armer has taken six wickets at 27.17 so far and, crucially, he’s kept things tight, going at 2.5 an over. It may be too soon to start talking of a recall just yet, but if England opt for a frontline spinner then Kerrigan appears to be in pole position.

Moeen Ali

Mooen’s 1,420 first class runs last year made people sit up and take notice and the fact that he can bowl decent spin means that a Swann-less England are sniffing around him like a randy dog.

With Monty Panesar having more question marks hanging over him than The Riddler, and Kerrigan still working his way back from a hellish debut, England need a spin option.

It seems increasingly likely that Moeen will be that man. A 99 in the innings victory against Derbyshire suggests his batting is in good order but the England selectors will be hoping he gets a few more overs under his belt – just 39 in three matches to date – before they have to make a call.

Honourable mentions

James Vince, Jos Buttler, Stuart Meaker and Eoin Morgan have all, to varying degrees, pushed their case for England selection in the first few weeks of the season, with Vince in particular (441 runs at 110.25) emerging as a dark horse.

Nick Compton and Michael Carberry – a ton apiece so far – were also worthy of discussion but my emotions over their treatment by England are still so raw that I can’t bring myself to talk about them. I am told time is a great healer.

This article first appeared in All Out Cricket magazine. You can follow Peter Millers on twitter - @TheCricketGeek.

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