The summer of cricket is officially over, and Australian eyes have turned to the northern hemisphere and the group of Aussies in England’s county competition who have more to gain from strong early-season form than in previous northern summers.

With a World Cup and Ashes double on English soil this year, the early-season form of Australian county players could make or break their chances of playing for their country at some stage over the next six months.

With the season starting this weekend, take a closer look at Australians with the most to gain this county season.

Division One

The top division of the County Championship will see two Victorian quicks look to push their way into Ashes contention with a repeat of dominant county campaigns.

A veteran of three Ashes tours, Peter Siddle will return Essex this year hoping to replicate his stunning form from last year, when he took 37 wickets in just seven games to underline his credentials as one of Australia’s best with the English Dukes ball. There will be no shortage of fast-bowling options when it comes time to decide Australia’s Ashes squad, but the 34-year-old’s experience and skill in seaming conditions make him an attractive option.

This could also be the year that James Pattinson’s long-awaited return to Australia’s Test team materialises. More than three years since he last pulled on the Baggy Green, Pattinson’s hot late-season form for Victoria sent a reminder of his match-winning ability and he could push towards the top of the list for a Test spot with a strong campaign for Nottinghamshire. The right-armer is already a favourite at Trent Bridge after taking an astonishing 32 wickets in just five matches in 2017 and he will return for a seven-game stint this year, with only his fragile body seemingly standing in the way of him and an Ashes recall.

Another Australian with plenty to prove is Matthew Renshaw, who will debut for Kent after a strong season with Somerset in 2018. The left-hander is coming off a disappointing Shield season at home, but the change of scenery and his record in English conditions – he averaged 51 for Somerset last year, including three centuries – could be just what he needs to snap out of his current funk. The return of David Warner as well as the presence of Marcus Harris, Joe Burns and Cameron Bancroft means Renshaw is an outside chance at best for the Ashes, but he could change all that with some strong early season form.

Division Two

In the second division, a handful of Ashes batting hopefuls will be looking to regain or hold onto their Test spots.

Incumbent Test opener Joe Burns and allrounder Glenn Maxwell will start their northern summer at Lancashire, with Maxwell’s initial stint expected to be brief and focused on one-day cricket ahead of the World Cup, before he returns to Old Trafford later in the summer for some first-class matches and the T20 Blast. Burns, on the other hand, has signed on for around 10 first-class matches to start the season, giving him a valuable lead-in to the Ashes, where he’s hoping to hold his spot despite the return of David Warner and hot recent form of fellow incumbent, Marcus Harris.

Further north at Durham, Cameron Bancroft has controversially been installed as captain in his push to regain his Test spot following the Cape Town scandal last year. Bancroft had signed to play with Somerset in 2018 before the Newlands saga put paid to that idea, and he’ll be looking to make amends this season by continuing his sold Shield form for Western Australia.

In Wales, another Test incumbent, Marnus Labuschagne, this week signed to play for Glamorgan while countryman Shaun Marsh is on World Cup duty with the national side. The right-hander will play both first-class and one-day cricket, giving him a chance to show his wares in UK conditions as he aims to hold onto his Test spot. Marsh, in the second year of a two-year deal with Glamorgan, is set to replace Labuschagne later in the season, assuming the left-hander is not part of Australia’s Ashes plans. Labuschagne will be one of two Queensland batsmen at Glamorgan this season, alongside Bulls teammate Charlie Hemphrey, the English-born right-hander who qualifies as a local player.

A pair of South Australian players will also feature in Division Two this season, with swing bowler Dan Worrall returning to Gloucestershire and Redbacks teammate Callum Ferguson to play for Worcestershire. Worrall has had a frustrating nine months that has been dominated by injury, but with skills that should be well suited to English conditions he could make a late push for an Ashes berth if he returns to his best fitness and form early in the season. Ferguson impressed in T20 cricket for Worcestershire in 2018 and is back this year, taking over from Redbacks teammate Travis Head.