I wasn’t writing much the last time England toured the UAE. It was just after they had been crowned the best Test Playing nation in the world. They had brushed India aside in spectacular fashion, after winning an away ashes series for the first time in 24 years. What followed, a 3-0 drubbing at the hands of Pakistan, was thus a bit of a come-down.
Déjà vu, anyone? While England’s performance in the first test this time round perhaps merited a positive result, their efforts with the bat in the second and third have not been good enough. Once again, two batting collapses have proved to be their downfall, as too many individuals have struggled when the pressure’s been on. Moeen Ali has hardly scored a run in his role as Alastair Cook’s partner, while Ian Bell’s struggles have been equally apparent. Adil Rashid, despite a superb second-innings effort in Abu Dhabi, also still has a long way to go if he is to become a part of England’s plans going forward. That said, James Anderson and Stuart Broad have bowled superbly (to be honest, they have been world-class), and Alastair Cook has shown the rest of his side how to bat. Three individuals, however, cannot carry a team, especially when they are not ably supported.
To begin with Moeen Ali, there is absolutely no question that he should not open the batting in South Africa. The fact that he struggled against the new ball bowling of Rahat Ali is evidence enough that he won’t succeed against the likes of Steyn, Morkel and Philander. While Ali is no slouch, the South Africans boast three of the best fast bowlers in the world. With Kagiso Rabada developing well, it won’t even matter if they’re hit by an injury bug. Ali might well keep his place in the side as a lower-order batsman and spinner, but he should not be batting in the top three. Alex Hales needs to be given a chance in Test cricket; Australia’s David Warner experiment certainly paid off, after all.
As for Ian Bell, it does seem as though his career is nearing its end. He has been, and still is, one of the best batsmen to watch in the world, but he’s not scoring enough runs. Rumours circulated after the final Ashes Test match of the summer that he was going to retire, and perhaps that has prompted his lack of confidence going forward. That does seem apparent when considering his lack of fluency at the crease, something seldom associated with Bell throughout his long test career. Add into the equation the fact that James Taylor might just be a ready-made replacement, and there is a strong argument that says it’s time to move on. Everyone knows what Ian Bell is capable of, but he seems to have forgotten that himself. It is a painful verdict, and one that I reluctantly pass, but perhaps we have witnessed Ian Bell’s last innings for England.
While the batsmen have been largely responsible for England’s series loss, the spinners haven’t been good enough for them to win it either. Moeen has been fine, without maintaining any real periods of pressure, while Rashid has really struggled for consistency. That inconsistency is best epitomised by his efforts in the first test. After being taken for the worst debut bowling figures on record, he bounced back spectacularly to set up an enthralling final day, claiming 5 wickets in the process. Aside from that fifth day in Abu Dhabbi though, he has been unable to either keep an end quiet, or pose a genuine wicket-taking threat. There is no doubt that he has a huge amount of potential, and I don’t think he should be dropped for South Africa, purely because of how good he could be going forward. He will need to perform better over there though if that decision is to be justified.
It’s not all doom and gloom though. Had bad light not intervened in the first test, England could have taken a series lead and things might well have turned out differently. The same can be said for the coin-tossing of Alastair Cook. He lost all three and, had he not, England might have been able to control the games a little better.
James Anderson and Stuart Broad have also been sensational. Their economy rates have been around the 2.00 mark for the whole series, which is truly remarkable in conditions that all but favour the quicker men. Both have performed admirably, and have cried out for some better support from the slow bowlers. Granted, Pakistan’s tactics have been quite clearly to sit on the seamers, while attacking the spinners, but Anderson and Broad’s form is a massive bonus going into the South Africa tour. Arguably, over the last year or so both of them have matched the South African pacemen; that is one of the highest compliments of our generation.
In summary though, England have disappointed. They need to consider the future of Moeen Ali, Ian Bell, and Adil Rashid. They’re not too far away from where they need to be, but cricket is a game of fine margins. Unfortunately, said margins worked against England, who lost many of the key moments.
The One-Day series is next on the list, and that will be a vital part of all of its participants’ development.