WITH England's wicketkeeping situation still in a state of flux, Durham's Phil Mustard is targeting a maiden international call-up before the end of the year.

While 36-year-old Paul Nixon has performed creditably during the World Cup, either Nottinghamshire's Chris Read or Kent's Geraint Jones are expected to be recalled for the first Test of the summer against West Indies next month.

Both featured during last winter's ill-fated Ashes tour of Australia, but neither was able to cement their position in an England side that has struggled behind the stumps since Alec Stewart retired from international cricket four years ago.

A window of opportunity is currently ajar and, as he prepares to face Worcestershire in Durham's opening County Championship fixture next week, Mustard is determined to make the most of it.

"It's something I'm aiming for," said the Sunderland-born 24-year-old. "I think that anyone who starts playing competitive cricket at the age of 15 or 16 dreams of playing international cricket for England at some stage in their career, and I'm no different.

"The job has changed hands a lot recently. It's wide open at the moment and every wicketkeeper in the country must be thinking that they've got half a chance of playing for England.

"I reckon there's about six or seven keepers in the country who could realistically play for England, and I'd have to include myself in that.

"My aim is to play international cricket and I think that whoever gets off to the best start to the season would have to have a really good chance."

With coach Duncan Fletcher stressing the need to reduce the length of England's tail, Mustard's ability at the crease could be a major boost to his international ambitions.

The North-Easterner topped the 800-mark in first-class cricket last season, and a career average of more than 28 suggests he could prove a useful addition to England's ranks.

"I'm fairly lucky in that the batting tends to come pretty naturally to me," he said. "I've worked fairly hard on it over the years, but this winter I've tried to concentrate on my keeping more.

"I've brushed up on my skills a bit, but I know I still have the batting ability to do myself justice."

That batting talent is about to be put to the test as Durham look to challenge in the upper echelons of the County Championship as well as targeting promotion to the first division of the Pro 40 League.

"I think we have a really good chance in all forms of the game this season," said Mustard.

"We've signed some fantastic players over the winter - Will Smith has looked excellent in pre-season and (Michael) Di Venuto has scored a lot of runs over the last four or five years.

"Will Gidman has come in as an all-rounder, and I think we have a side that can fight for everything now.

"There's a lot of strength in depth in the batting and, when it comes to the bowling, we must have one of the most experienced attacks in the country."