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England Test stars aligned to return for their counties


Excitement may be at less than fever pitch but this is a remarkable day in the County Championship. This round of matches is to be blessed with more current Test players than you can shake a stick at.

Almost all of those who are centrally contracted and who took part in England's winter tours will be lining up for their counties. In some cases reintroductions to their colleagues may be essential. "Good Lord, you've changed, how long has it been, when's your benefit?" an old club pro may say to one of the returning internationals.

Time was when Test players in county sides were two a penny – which is about what they got paid – but there should be a real sense of anticipation about seeing England's two leading fast bowlers, Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad, in opposition for Lancashire and Nottinghamshire respectively. Graeme Swann is also returning for Notts, as is England's opening batsman Alastair Cook, for Essex. With Ian Bell desperately trying to regain form for the early First Division leaders, Warwickshire, who play Durham, and England's Test captain, Andrew Strauss, in a similar need for runs when Middlesex play Worcestershire at Lord's , it is a litany of talent of which the Championship sees too little.

If there are reasons for that, which have helped to ensure England's miraculous rise to the top of the world rankings, it is still a poorer competition for their absence. Broad has not bowled in a match since the first Test against Sri Lanka in Galle in March when he suffered a calf strain. This has probably worked in England's favour: he would otherwise be plying his trade by now in the Indian Premier League.

That is where Kevin Pietersen has been operating for Delhi Daredevils. Meanwhile, Eoin Morgan is twiddling his thumbs at Kolkata Knight Riders, where he has yet to play in a match this season. They are the only two centrally contracted players not appearing in the Championship this week.

It is a stone-cold certainty that Broad and Anderson will be looking forward to returning to the fray much more than Cook, Bell and Strauss. In an utter transformation of normal convention this much-interrupted season so far has been one for the bowlers.