England’s performance director, Mo Bobat, has challenged members of the Lions squad to fight their way into Test reckoning after the announcement of a group of 14 players who will join those already selected for the Ashes on the flight to Australia and provide opposition in training and two warmup games.
A young group entirely in their 20s includes four players with Test experience in Dom Sibley, Ben Foakes, Mason Crane and James Bracey. Also included are two Lancashire bowlers who were widely tipped for selection in the Ashes squad, the seamer Saqib Mahmood and the spinner Matt Parkinson, but Bobat insisted that for them and others the window of opportunity remains open.
“That’ll definitely be something that motivates those players,” Bobat said. “There’ll be some, and I know this having had some of those conversations, that are disappointed not to be in the full Ashes squad. We’ve picked an Ashes squad that’s 17 in size, which might not be quite as big as it might be. What that ultimately does is give us a chance to reflect, a bit of flexibility as well, and actually if two or three players really stand out on this Lions experience, that’ll really give Joe Root and Chris Silverwood something to think about.
“There’s some players there that we all believe are really exciting, and there’s a good chance for them to take their time to build up, get their skills in a good place, get out to Australia, acclimatise and put forward a compelling case.”
There are also some notable omissions in Sam Cook, the 24-year-old Essex seamer, who took 58 first-class wickets this summer at an average of 14.43, and Liam Livingstone, currently with the T20 World Cup squad after a breakout year in white-ball cricket.
“Do we think there’s a player there of high potential across all disciplines: batting, bowling and fielding? Yes, without question,” Bobat said of Livingstone. “He’s someone we’ll keep having an interest in. But from a red-ball perspective, put simply it felt like there were other players ahead of him right now.”
The Lions squad will travel to Australia along with the players selected for the Ashes who are not at the World Cup on 4 November. The two groups will quarantine together and will play each other in two competitive matches, and the Lions will then play one game against Australia A before those players not chosen to stay on return to England on 16 December.
Counties vote to abandon conference system
The first-class counties decided on Thursday to abandon the conference system trialled in this season’s County Championship and return to two divisions from next summer.
The new structure, which had been decided on in 2018 and was initially due to be introduced in 2020 only for Covid-19 to force a postponement, will see 10 teams – Essex, Gloucestershire, Hampshire, Kent, Lancashire, Northamptonshire, Somerset, Surrey, Warwickshire and Yorkshire – compete in the First Division and eight – Durham, Derbyshire, Glamorgan, Leicestershire, Middlesex, Nottinghamshire, Sussex, Worcestershire – in the second, with two teams being promoted and two relegated at the end of the campaign.
The teams are in the divisions they would have been in had the competition been played in 2020, which most notably means that Nottinghamshire, who after several years of underachievement had an outstanding campaign this season, remaining in the title chase until the final week before eventually finishing third, will be in the second tier. A majority of counties voted to spend one more season using this year’s system, which allowed every team to start the season with a chance of winning the title, but the two-thirds majority required to alter the existing plans was not reached.
In a statement on their website, Nottinghamshire’s director of cricket, Mick Newell, said: “We had hoped that the proposal put forward to play another year of First-Class cricket in conferences, with the finishing positions to determine the divisional structure for 2023, would gain sufficient support.
“However, following the vote, that was not the outcome. This is, of course, disappointing, but it in no way takes away from the achievements of our squad.”