Test stars descend on UK county comp
A wealth of international batting and bowling expertise set to spice up the County Championship this northern summer
12 April 2018, 04:23 PM AEST
England's big guns will be missing but overseas talent will add nearly 23,000 Test runs and more than 750 Test wickets for the opening rounds of the County Championship in the UK, starting this weekend.
Up to seven of the world's top-10 ranked Test batsmen could reportedly make an appearance at some stage during the county season, while four of the six most prolific current Test bowlers will also take part.
New signings Hashim Amla (Hampshire), Ross Taylor (Nottinghamshire) and Cheteshwar Pujara (Yorkshire) are all set to begin stints with their respective county sides when the opening round of four-day games get underway on Friday.
Fresh off his final act in international cricket in South Africa's recent triumph over Australia, Morne Morkel could make his debut for his new club Surrey next week after signing a two-year Kolpak deal (which essentially means he counts as a local player). The side strain he suffered at The Wanderers could, however, delay his first game.
Other international stars Dale Steyn (Hampshire), Kane Williamson (Yorkshire) and Neil Wagner (Essex) will also make appearances of varying lengths later in the northern summer.
Unconfirmed reports have also linked batting maestro Virat Kohli with a brief county stint ahead of India's five-Test tour of England, which begins in August.
Cricket Australia has said it would not stand in the way of Steve Smith, David Warner or Cameron Bancroft playing county cricket this season after they were handed hefty sanctions for their roles in the Cape Town ball-tampering scandal.
Bancroft had signed a deal with Somerset before it was cancelled in the fallout of the incident - he has since been replaced by fellow Aussie Matt Renshaw - while speculative media reports have tenuously linked Smith with a county move.
Leading this season's 16-man Australian contingent in the UK is Shaun Marsh (Glamorgan), the only member of the Test squad that lost in South Africa who will be present for the beginning of the English domestic season. His brother Mitchell had signed a deal with Surrey, which was scuppered when the allrounder suffered an ankle injury. South African Dean Elgar has taken Marsh's place.
Both the older Marsh brother and young Proteas star Aiden Markram (Durham) will kick off their sides' respective seasons next week when the second round of matches start.
Other Australians looking to make their mark early in the season are Peter Siddle (Essex), Hilton Cartwright (Middlesex), Travis Head (Worcestershire), Joe Mennie (Lancashire) and Daniel Worrall (Gloucestershire).
England's leading long-form players are set to rest up for the early stages of the season after they recently concluded a busy six-month period where they toured Australia and New Zealand, failing to win a Test.
Opener Alastair Cook (Essex) and paceman Stuart Broad (Nottinghamshire) will link up with their sides later this month, while Test skipper Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow will return to Yorkshire in early May.
The ECB are yet to make a call on the availability of veteran quick Jimmy Anderson (Lancashire).
India Test pacemen Ishant Sharma (Sussex) and Varun Aaron (Leicestershire) will also feature in the early part of the season after being overlooked for Indian Premier League contracts.
The former will play under the tutelage of new Sussex coach – and ex-Australia Test quick – Jason Gillespie, who will kick off his tenure on Friday at Edgbaston away to Warwickshire.
Of the world's top-10 ranked Test batsmen, Smith (first) and Kohli (second) have been speculatively linked with a county stint while Root (third), Williamson (fourth), Pujara (seventh), Elgar (eighth) and Markram (ninth) are all confirmed starters.
And of the seven current Test bowlers with more than 300 Test wickets to their name, Anderson (531 wickets), Broad (410), Steyn (419) and Morkel (309) will turn out for their respective counties.