Alastair Cook may yet find an improbable route back into England’s 2019 World Cup reckoning after earning an invitation to next year’s North-South Series.
Cook was axed as England’s one-day international captain just before the last World Cup, in Australia and New Zealand in 2015, and has not featured in any squad since leading his country to a 5-2 series defeat in Sri Lanka shortly before his 30th birthday in December 2014.
England have moved on without him, under the leadership of Eoin Morgan and a new coaching regime too, to the point that they will begin next month’s home Champions Trophy campaign as one of the favourites.
Cook has put himself nominally back in the frame again, however, by hitting more than 500 runs – including two centuries – in Essex’s table-topping group campaign in this season’s Royal London Cup to claim third place in the Professional Cricketers’ Association MVP rankings.
That status guarantees a mandatory invitation for any England-qualified player to the second edition of the North-South Series – an innovation from England and Wales Cricket Board director Andrew Strauss, in order to track players who may force their way into the 2019 squad.
It appears unlikely, nonetheless, that England might recall all-time national record Test run-scorer Cook, having dispensed with the opener’s white-ball services more than two years ago after his 92 caps to date.
There is an extra snag too, in that the North-South Series – held in the United Arab Emirates in March this year, but with no dates or venues yet announced for 2018 – may well clash with England’s Test series in New Zealand next spring.
Cook is almost certain to be involved in that tour, fitness permitting.
The former England captain has been in outstanding form in both formats so far this summer and will be back in Specsavers County Championship action for Essex against Hampshire at Chelmsford on Friday.
He is joined, meanwhile, near the top of the MVP rankings by Derbyshire’s Shiv Thakor. The all-rounder is second in the table, behind only Glamorgan’s South African batsman Colin Ingram.
Hampshire captain James Vince led the South to a 3-0 win two months ago and has also qualified again for one of the four places available in the same squad next year – alongside England Lions opener Daniel Bell-Drummond and Cook’s Essex and former international team-mate Ravi Bopara.
England Test opener Keaton Jennings, Warwickshire’s Sam Hain and Yorkshire captain Gary Ballance are in the frame to join Thakor in the North squad – depending on any clash with England commitments.