Joe Clarke began his preparations in Dubai today with the North squad for the three match series against the South – and more immediately the warm-up match against his Worcestershire team-mates at the ICC Academy tomorrow.
Paul Farbrace’s South team will face the United Arab Emirates in a warm-up game while the North, coached by Ottis Gibson, will tackle new Worcestershire skipper Joe Leach's side.
The County have broken off from their pre-season training camp in Abu Dhabi to provide the opposition after Afghanistan had to withdraw.
Clarke – who will be keeping wicket for the North – will be looking to hit top form after a challenging winter with England Lions and both squads have been put through training sessions today.
The South will also find a familiar face coaching the UAE in Dougie Brown, the former Warwickshire director of cricket who recently succeeded Owais Shah.
The three matches in the North-South Series will have List A status.
But that will not apply to the warm-up matches to allow coaches Farbrace and Gibson to involve all 13 squad members ahead of the first match of the series at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium on Friday.
Both face some tricky selection issues.
The South top five looks formidable, with Dawid Malan fresh from his Pakistan Super League triumph, Daniel Bell-Drummond and Tom Alsop keen to continue a partnership which set a new England Lions record in Sri Lanka, captain James Vince aiming to repeat the form he showed for the Lions in the UAE last winter, and Kent captain Sam Northeast also keen to make an impression.
But that leaves Farbrace and Vince to work out the best batting order, with Liam Dawson and wicketkeeper Ben Foakes likely to come in at six and seven, and the remaining four places coveted by six bowlers – Tim Groenewald, Lewis Gregory, Toby Roland-Jones, Tom Curran, Mason Crane and Steven Finn.
The North’s top order would seem easier to predict, with captain Keaton Jennings set to continue his Lions opening partnership with Ben Duckett, and Liam Livingstone now established as a man to watch after his performances in Sri Lanka.
Clarke will be behind the stumps with Sam Hain and Jack Leaning the other specialist batsmen in the squad.
Josh Poysden and Graeme White offer the spin options, with Mark Wood set to make his first appearance since September in a pace attack that could also include his Durham team-mate Paul Coughlin, Lancashire’s exciting youngster Saqib Mahmood, Notts Outlaws left-armer Harry Gurney and the redoubtable Yorkshire all-rounder Tim Bresnan – fresh from his Big Bash triumph with the Perth Scorchers.
The first match of the North-South Series on Friday also starts at 10am, with the second – a day-night match – starting at 2pm.
The series concludes at Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Zayed Cricket Stadium next Tuesday (March 21), again with a 10am start.
Squads for North versus South series:
North: Keaton Jennings (Durham, capt), Ben Duckett (Northamptonshire*), Sam Hain (Warwickshire), JOE CLARKE (WORCESTERSHIRE, WK), Liam Livingstone (Lancashire), Jack Leaning (Yorkshire), Tim Bresnan (Yorkshire*), Josh Poysden (Warwickshire), Graeme White (Northamptonshire*), Mark Wood (Durham), Saqib Mahmood (Lancashire), Paul Coughlin (Durham), Harry Gurney (Nottinghamshire*),
South: James Vince (Hampshire, capt), Daniel Bell-Drummond (Kent), Tom Alsop (Hampshire), Dawid Malan (Middlesex), Sam Northeast (Kent), Liam Dawson (Hampshire*), Ben Foakes (Surrey, wk), Tom Curran (Surrey), Lewis Gregory (Somerset*), Tim Groenewald (Somerset*), Toby Roland-Jones (Middlesex), Steven Finn (Middlesex), Mason Crane (Hampshire).
* – automatic selection through position in Professional Cricketers’ Association’s Most Valuable Player rankings for the 2016 Royal London One-Day Cup