Where better place to start than with England’s man of the moment? This winter, Rehan Ahmed became the youngest player capped by England in each of the men’s Test, ODI and IT20 teams and has seemed to take it all in his stride.
Having burst onto the scene with a series of stunning performances for England at the 2022 ICC U19 World Cup, the Leicestershire leg-spinner continued to impress the selectors in his first full season with his county.
He made his LV= Insurance County Championship debut in May, followed seven days later by his first appearance in the Vitality Blast – his performances in the competition earning him a lucrative deal in The Hundred.
His run in the Leicestershire side at the end of the season solidified what a promising talent Ahmed is; impressing with both bat and ball. Despite having only turned 18 in August, Ahmed batted at number five and, on the final day of the season, endeared himself further with the England management by smashing 122 off 113 to prove his all-round ability.
Fast-tracked into the England red-ball squad over the summer, he made his debut in the third Test against Pakistan, taking 5/48 in the second innings and deputising for Stuart Broad in the Nighthawk roll in England’s successful run chase. A stint in the Abu Dhabi T20 league after Christmas was followed by further international debuts on England Men’s white-ball trip to Bangladesh.
Despite his rapid rise to the top of the game, Ahmed has seemingly remained grounded. He withdrew his name from IPL contention on the eve of the auction, with an eye on improving his red-ball cricket in the LV= Insurance County Championship ahead of a massive Ashes summer.
Such is the strength of Somerset’s pathway in recent years that rarely does a season come around without us wondering who the latest young prospect to emerge from the West Country will be.
Wicketkeeper James Rew has been making his name in Taunton and around the country in recent seasons, impressing for his county, England U19s and England Lions in the past 18 months.
Rew only turned 18 in January, but already has eight first-class and 13 List A matches under his belt, with centuries in both formats.
The left-handed batter has set his sights on improving his red-ball game this summer and dreams of propelling Somerset to their first LV= Insurance County Championship title.
Like Ahmed, Rew’s promise is well known among the England management. Last summer, he was called up to the Lions squad ahead of their match against South Africa and, while he didn’t play in the match, the opportunity to train with the group would have been invaluable. He was then named in the Lions’ white-ball squad for the tour of Sri Lanka this winter, where he scored 70 runs in three innings.
With an exceptional gloveman in Steven Davies alongside him in the Somerset dressing room, it’s exciting to think how far Rew could go in the next few years. Unlike Ahmed, he might have to wait to break into the England team, but he seems to have all the tools needed to be an international player in the future.
If James Rew is an England Men’s wicketkeeper for the future, then Jamie Smith may be England Men’s wicketkeeper of the nearer future.
The Surrey man is already being mooted as someone who could break into the Test team this summer, with his game perfectly suiting the free-scoring mould that Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum have created.
This winter, Smith scored the fastest ever Lions century, smashing 126 from 82 balls in Sri Lanka. He was selected for the tour despite a self-confessed poor season with the bat for Surrey, but the selectors’ trust was repaid by the performance in Galle – one that was definitely noticed by Stokes and co in the senior team.
His 2022 season started with flair: an unbeaten 234 against Gloucestershire in the third match, but he only added 121 more runs in his next eight innings.
Despite that, the absence of Ben Foakes, who spent much of the summer with the Test team, meant that Smith gained some good experience behind the stumps. If he’s to break into the Test team in the next 12 months, it could well be in place of his Surrey teammate as wicketkeeper. Foakes is probably the best gloveman in the men’s game at the moment, so Smith has a bit of work to do if he’s to beat him to the job, but his skills with the bat could give him the edge if Foakes’ form falters.
A record-breaking day for Jamie Smith!— England Cricket (@englandcricket) February 9, 2023
The @surreycricket batter's 71-ball century was the fastest ever for England Lions, beating the previous record set by @lukewright204 (91 balls) in 2008/09.
Sri Lanka A finished day 3 on 202/3, leading by 129 runs.
📸 @OfficialSLC pic.twitter.com/wDez5yjh7L
England’s stable of seamers is growing ever larger and Derbyshire’s Sam Conners is knocking on the door to join them. The 24-year-old seems highly thought of by the national selectors, having been picked in two Lions squads last year, and will be looking to further impress as the LV= Insurance County Championship gets underway.
His Lions call-ups were testament to his form last season, where he took 50 wickets in Division Two, only behind Toby Roland-Jones, Matthew Potts and Dane Paterson in the charts. And it’s Potts that Conners is likely to want to emulate – someone who made himself impossible to ignore thanks to the sheer number of wickets.
Potts’ selection and success in an England shirt also proved that playing in Division Two of the LV= Insurance County Championship is not a barrier to international selection. It’s perhaps unlikely Conners will get an opportunity this year like the one Potts did in 2022, but another solid season for Derbyshire could see him rewarded with more Lions cricket over the winter.
Something he may need to work on is his economy to bring him in line with those bowlers he’s battling against for England recognition. Last year he went for 3.94 runs per over – the highest of any Division Two bowler with at least 20 wickets, while his 50 wickets came at over 35 runs each. With the anticipated increase in attacking batting in this year’s LV= Insurance County Championship, the economy rate may not be easy to reduce; bringing it in line with his peers will be the challenge.
The Lancashire pathway is producing some exciting talents and the latest academy graduate to break into the first team is wicketkeeper George Bell.
Despite being diminutive in stature, Bell definitely packs a punch with the bat; the kind of batter who has the range to build quick innings but also to dig in when required.
He was thrust into Lancashire’s LV= Insurance County Championship title chase in the final two matches of the 2022 season and finished on the winning side on both occasions. While his stats from the games don’t look great on paper, two of his three innings came in the low-scoring battle with Essex. Bell scored 16 and 24 on a pitch that claimed 27 victims in single figures.
The Red Rose county will be battling for another title in 2023, and with the likes of Phil Salt and Jos Buttler away at the IPL, Bell may be able to stake a claim for the gloves in the opening rounds.
The only player on this list to have not made a first-team appearance for his county, it seems only a matter of time until Ben McKinney breaks into the Durham side.
A tall, powerful opening batter, 18-year-old McKinney has been a regular in the England U19 squad in the last 12 months, captaining the Young Lions last summer and on the white-ball leg of their tour of Australia this winter.
In the red-ball series in Australia in January, McKinney smashed 70 from 45 balls as England won their first Youth Test Down Under for 20 years, following up with another half-century in the second match.
With Sean Dickson departing for Somerset over the winter, a space at the top of the order may become available for McKinney, though Alex Lees will undoubtedly be their first-choice opener as he tries to fight his way back into England contention.
Should Durham opt to follow their England captain’s lead and take an authoritative approach to red-ball batting, an opening pairing of Lees and McKinney could prove incredibly eye catching.