Young duo set for Warks bows
LV= County Champions Warwickshire will hand two academy players debuts tomorrow when they undertake their final preparations for the new season.
Wicketkeeper Pete McKay and seamer Shozair Ali will appear in first-class cricket for the first time when their county tackle Oxford MCCU in a three-day match at The Parks.
Director of cricket Dougie Brown, who oversaw a comfortable Champion County victory over MCC in his first four-day match at the helm, said: “Having worked closely with Pete and Shoz in my former role as academy director, I've seen them develop into very talented cricketers.
“They've both worked very hard in pre-season and have earned the chance to make their first-class debuts.
“We've enjoyed a good build-up towards the start of the season so far with an excellent training camp in Barbados, a convincing first-class win in Abu Dhabi and several outdoor training sessions here at Edgbaston since returning.
“We'll be looking to keep that momentum in the game against Oxford, which will be an excellent test for this young squad.”
Yorkshire will be without England pair Joe Root and Tim Bresnan for their clash with Bradford MCCU, yet new signings Liam Plunkett and Jack Brooks may make their first-class bows for the county.
Root is taking an extended break following his England exertions in New Zealand, meaning Joe Sayers or youngster Alex Lees could step in at the top of the order.
Bresnan is not quite ready for a return to fitness following elbow surgery, but Azeem Rafiq is fit after recovering from a finger problem.
First-team coach Jason Gillespie said: “We are not going to take the students lightly. They played some good cricket against us last year. We are certainly going out there with a real positive attitude as if we are playing a championship game.
“We have picked a very strong squad to play that game, and we are looking forward to it.”
Durham will be one of the sides desperate for some good weather against Durham MCCU tomorrow having seen much of their pre-season hampered by a freezing-cold winter.
Paceman Steve Harmison, in his benefit year, admits it has been frustrating, saying: “I've known it being cold, but I think this is the worst I've known it in the 17 years I've been doing it, with the preparation. We've not been outdoors.
“Everyone seems to be fit, which is good, but nobody can put their hand up and say 'pick me' because there's nothing behind it.
“I don't envy (skipper) Paul (Collingwood) and (coach) Geoff (Cook’s) decision to pick a team and I imagine they have to really look at what happened last year and be loyal to the people who did well for them last year, because we haven't had a grass net (speaking yesterday morning).”
Collingwood, meanwhile, is unlikely to feature in the contest having recently undergone an operation on his thumb.
He said: “I've had it out of the splint for about a week and a half now. My thumb is moving around well. I've still got a bit of pain in the wrist itself where the tendons are running through, so really it's just day to day, trying to get some work into it and see how it responds.”
Essex will have overseas batsman Rob Quiney available for their clash with Cambridge MCCU, but seamers Sajid Mahmood and Reece Topley miss out alongside batsman Jaik Mickleburgh.
“We've picked the best side for tomorrow's game and unfortunately, some players miss out,” said head coach Paul Grayson. “We are really pleased with how Saj and Reece have bowled plus how Jaik has been batting pre-season and they are all first-team players obviously.
“We want competition for places and we've got two very good bowlers and a batsman who are unlucky not to be playing tomorrow.
“They've missed out this time but if we are going to achieve things this year, it's going to be with a decent squad but they'll be pushing hard for places for the start of our championship fixtures against Gloucestershire next week. It will keep everyone on their toes.
"Playing at Fenner's during this time of the season is always a good fixture to have. Our preparations have gone really well; we've had good practice, good grass nets. Everyone is ready to get out in the middle and play a match and getting down to some good work out there.
"As a group, I'm happy that we are where we want to be at this stage."
Elsewhere, Sussex are taking on Loughborough MCCU and Glamorgan will face Cardiff MCCU.