England have won the ashes. That alone has exceeded the wildest expectations of so many home supporters this summer, and few could have dreamt that the fifth test at the Oval might see both sides having nothing left to play for. The hosts have outplayed their Aussie visitors in every department in three of the four test matches, and fully warrant a 3-1 lead.
Somewhat inevitably though, several questions have now arisen following the Trent Bridge triumph. Most pressing of all has to be that concerning Adil Rashid. Yorkshire’s legspinner has carried drinks for test matches 1-4, while Moeen Ali has retained his place in the side as the front-line spinner. However, with a trip to the UAE for a test series against Pakistan next on England’s busy schedule, many are calling for Rashid to make his debut tomorrow in London.
While Rashid has played for England recently in One Day cricket, performing well in difficult bowling circumstances against New Zealand, he is uncapped in red ball cricket for his country. Moeen has bowled reasonably well this summer, but he has not done enough to cement his place as England’s leading spinner in sub-continental conditions. England will need another, possibly better spin bowler if they are to take advantage of Pakistan’s very favourable home conditions. It is unfair to criticise Ali’s off-breaks. He was brought into the side against India last summer as the lead spinner when, really, he has always been more comfortable with a bat in his hand. A ‘batting all-rounder’ is perhaps the most appropriate way of describing the Worcestershire man’s playing style, and that should not be forgotten. That Ali happened to out-bowl India’s specialist spinners, and that he has picked up crucial wickets throughout his short test career is testimony to both his adaptability and his character.
Moeen will not be enough in Pakistan though. He is still capable of serving up three 4-balls an over, and doesn’t have much experience of leading a bowling attack. If Ali is taken for 25 in his first two overs, he might just go into his shell and leave England stranded. For the vast majority of his career, he has played alongside three or four other seam bowlers who have been helped by English conditions. In the UAE, it will be down to him to inspire the necessary twenty wickets in the three games, and he will need some help. Rashid will simply have to play.
Should Rashid be thrown in at the deep end in the UAE, things could go horribly wrong. He will be on his test debut with the weight of England’s expectancy on his shoulders, and even the coolest customer might melt under such pressure. He must be given a chance to settle in at the Oval, where the pressure is off and he is able to relax. A test debut is a nerve-racking time to say the least, so anything that can be done to relieve some of the inevitable pressure must be considered. Moeen Ali should also keep his place, so that the two can play alongside one another. That means one of two things. Either, Ali goes up the order and England drop a batsman, perhaps resting Jos Buttler after his torrid time with the bat, or Rashid comes in for a quick bowler and England play with just two new ball bowlers. That might well be a risky strategy though, and England should certainly still have winning the game in the forefront of their minds. What better way to reply to a 5-0 whitewash than to thump the Australians on our home turf?
The best solution to the selection dilemma has to be the first. Buttler has played a lot of cricket this year, and looks in need of a rest. Granted, he has had a lot of time off between the Trent Bridge Test and this one, but if he is left alone until the ODI series, he should come back rejuvenated and with a point to prove. Dropping Adam Lyth and trying Moeen at the top of the order is an option, but the freedom and expression with which Ali bats is almost certainly better suited to the lower middle order; his technique might well get found out against the new ball, and it’s important that he continues to score runs. Jonny Bairstow is a ready-made stand in keeper for Buttler, and changing one player isn’t going to upset the balance of the team too much. Give Buttler a rest, and give Rashid his chance. Who is dropped for Buttler in the UAE is another matter entirely, but for now this seems to be the best plan.
Much has been written about the home side’s selection ahead of tomorrow’s final Ashes test, and most of it includes a test debut for Adil Rashid. He should play with Moeen Ali, as England try and test out a successful formula for the UAE tour. Whoever loses their place to Rashid will undoubtedly be disappointed, but looking ahead to the future is the best way to ensure the state of England cricket continues to improve.
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