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In Focus: England players in the County Championship

In Focus: England players in the County Championship
© Reuters
Ashes spots are up for grabs.

The County Championship has returned after a brief hiatus for the Royal London One-Day Cup.

This week marked the start of a block of four-day cricket and the opportunity for players up and down the country to catch the eye of the England selectors.

Now that the World Cup squad looks largely set in stone, attentions turn to securing an Ashes spot.

Here, Press Association Sport looks at how England players and hopefuls fared in the County Championship this week.

Those in possession

Rory Burns and Keaton Jennings finished England's most recent Test series in the West Indies as the opening pair. But their performances over the winter did little to cement their places.

Surrey opener Burns was the top run-scorer in the Championship by a distance last season and has started this campaign in similar fashion. A century on the first day against Somerset this week was followed up by a half-century in the second innings.

The left-hander hit 107 and 78 in the clash at Taunton and appears to be on the way to securing his Ashes spot.

Jennings will hope to keep his Test place
Keaton Jennings will hope to keep his Test place (John Walton/PA)

Likewise, fellow left-hander, Jennings can be pleased with his form. He scored 97 for Lancashire in the first innings of their Division Two win against Northamptonshire at Old Trafford – which followed impressive one-day form where he hit five half-centuries in 10 innings to help Lancashire to the semi-finals.

In the bowling department, Stuart Broad will be keen to ensure he is not forgotten about with England not short of options. Their second-highest wicket-taker in Test history continued a slightly underwhelming start to the season as Nottinghamshire were soundly beaten by Essex.

Broad claimed two wickets in the match but did dismiss former England captain Alastair Cook for 31.

Which batsmen are putting their hands up?

The main question marks over England's Test batting selection appear to be over the top three.

No man is doing more to hammer the door down currently than Yorkshire's Gary Ballance. The 29-year-old, who has had multiple Test recalls over the last few years, is in sensational form and hit his third Championship century of the season against Kent at Canterbury.

Those have come from just five innings and he also notched a ton in the One-Day Cup. Ballance has had technical flaws exposed in Test cricket over recent years which will count against him – but with an average currently in excess of 100, he will be hard to ignore.

Elsewhere, Warwickshire's Dom Sibley is catching the eye in a struggling side. He carried his bat in the Bears' first innings in their defeat to Hampshire, making an unbeaten 109. That was his third Championship century of the season and made it six centuries in six first-class matches stretching back to last season.

Sibley would likely be lower down the pecking order than Nottinghamshire's Ben Duckett. The left-hander, who joined from Northamptonshire in the summer, has played four Tests for England – the most recent coming in 2016.

Opening the batting, he would love to force a recall but his form is yet to really take off for his new county. Duckett managed scores of seven and 37 against Essex this week and he has just one half-century in six innings this season.

What about the bowlers?

Jack Leach is bidding to secure an Ashes spot
Jack Leach is bidding to secure an Ashes spot (Mike Egerton/PA)

In terms of England's spin ranks, Moeen Ali appears set at first choice, with a battle seemingly between Adil Rashid and Jack Leach to be the second spinner.

Rashid is yet to play in the Championship due to England involvement, while Leach has started the season nicely. The left-armer claimed three wickets in each innings against Surrey at Taunton to follow up his six for 36 against Nottinghamshire in his last first-class match.

Off-spinner Dom Bess, who played two Tests for England last summer, has been loaned to Yorkshire by Somerset to get regular game time. He began with one wicket in the match against Kent.

Another man to keep an eye on is Somerset all-rounder Lewis Gregory. While perhaps not on England's immediate radar, his form is eye-catching.

The 26-year-old scored an unbeaten 129 against Surrey to underline his batting ability. He also bagged five wickets in the match to take his total to 19 for the season.

Aussies in action

Cameron Bancroft has not played for Australia since the ball-tampering scandal
Cameron Bancroft has not played for Australia since the ball-tampering scandal (Jason O'Brien/PA)

There were a couple of Australia Test players in Championship action this week.

Cameron Bancroft, who is yet to play for Australia since suspension for his role in the ball-tampering scandal, continued a solid start to his stint as Durham captain.

He scored 70 in the first innings against Worcestershire having also scored two centuries in the One-Day Cup. The 26-year-old will hope to be in the mix for Ashes selection.

Incumbent Test opener Joe Burns made his Lancashire debut at Old Trafford but will be disappointed to have been dismissed for 10 in his only knock.

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Stuart Broad in action for England on February 10, 2019
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