According to Paul Farbrace, the England coaching staff have been encouraged by Moeen Ali’s first innings as an England opening batsman. Adam Lyth’s omission from the UAE touring squad has left a free spot at the top of the batting order, but there is still some debate as to who should fill it.
Should England decide to move Moeen up the order, as they did in their first warm up match a couple of days ago, that will allow them to play an extra bowler. Adil Rashid will surely make his test debut on Tuesday, which means that someone will have to make way. That someone could, however, prove to be no-one. Adam Lyth has already been dropped, and Moeen Ali was already in England’s side. Granted, it does mean that the team might be a batsman light, but if Ali is up to the challenge then that will not be a problem.
He made 22 in Sharjah, which seemingly satisfied Paul Farbrace and England’s backroom staff. Farbrace pointed out that Ali has opened before at County level, and he felt that he applied himself well when given the chance to do it in an England shirt.
The obvious advantage of batting Moeen at the top of the order is that England can play Anderson, Broad, Finn, Rashid, plus Ali and Stokes. That’s two spinners and three seamers, plus a very good all-rounder, plus Joe Root’s handy offies. While the prospect to go with such a strong attack might well be a very attractive one, it could just prove to be a short-term fix. Ali’s lack of foot movement could lead to him struggling in South Africa at the turn of the year, before returning to England in even harder batting conditions.
That forms the basis of the argument backing Alex Hales as Cook’s opening partner. Despite his lack of form in the recent ODI series against Australia, his talent is never questioned. Many feel that two senior seamers plus Ben Stokes would still represent a powerful bowling line-up in the UAE. The likelihood is that Ali and Rashid will provide the main wicket-taking threat, while one of the quickies plugs away at the other end. Ali would still play as the second spinner, and then either he or Rashid could make way for the extra seamer in South Africa. If Hales can score runs alongside Alastair Cook, he might just prove to be a longer-term solution.
So, if England do go with Hales and keep Moeen in the lower-middle order, which of England’s seamers should make way? Anderson is our best, most senior bowler, and is arguably the best swing bowler in the world. However, the UAE is hardly the dream setting for swing bowlers, even ones with the skill of Anderson. Although the odd bit of reverse swing often comes in handy, new-ball swing normally only lasts for a couple of overs. Stuart Broad just had his most consistent summer ever for England, and can lead by example for Finn and Stokes. Resting James Anderson would allow him to be fully fresh for South Africa where conditions should be more favourable. With Jimmy in the latter part of his fast-bowling life, he must be treated with care and looked after.
England won’t drop Anderson though, that’s too far outside their comfort zone. If Hales plays, Finn (or Wood, depending on who is preferred) will probably miss out, while all three senior seamers would play if Ali opens up.
Having gone with Ali in their warm-up game, that is probably the route Bayliss will go down. It’s by no means the ‘wrong’ one, as he should be ale to score runs in conditions that don’t generate huge amounts of lateral movement. However, it could just prove to be a short term fix, sending England into South Africa with questions still unanswered.