England have gone 1-0 down in the three-Test series against Pakistan with one to play. What can we take from their performance, as the end-of-year series against the Proteas looms?
MIDDLE ORDER ON HOLIDAY
England’s middle order appears weaker and weaker with every match. There are no runs coming from 5, 6 and 7. Jonny Bairstow, for all his domestic success, has done very little for England. Five fifties in 32 innings at an average of 26.73 is not enough. His place could be more justified if the selectors make him the wicketkeeper, which might not be a bad option, considering Jos Buttler’s form. Buttler has failed every time he has walked out to bat in this series, where runs have been desperately needed lower down the order. Ben Stokes is short of form too. These failures put a facade over Ian Bell’s form, which is lacking too. They’ve got James Taylor and Alex Hales doing the drinks duties day-in, day-out. Play them!
There are clearly pieces to the puzzle which England can’t quite fit at the moment, and they have one more Test to get it right before they fly over to South Africa. This brings me to their spinning woes. Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid, bar a second-innings Pakistan collapse in Abu Dhabi, have been largely ineffective. Yasir Shah is a genuine threat with every delivery he bowls, and puts the performances of Moeen and Rashid into perspective. Moeen is probably the best England have got, so if they choose one spinner against the Proteas, they should pick him, and move him lower down the batting order, because he’s not an opener.
GOOD PACE OPTIONS
England’s fast bowling on the other hand, has been pretty good in difficult conditions. Jimmy Anderson has been brilliant with the new ball and Mark Wood has put his hand up every time with relentless spells of pace and reverse swing. Steven Finn should be fit in time to play the Proteas, which leaves England with some useful options – crucial considering what the Proteas have at their disposal.
DE VILLIERS v ROOT
AB de Villiers has been dealt a raw deal when it comes to the Test rankings. He has to look on while Joe Root returns to the world’s No 1 batsman in the rankings. He’s only played one Test this year, while Root is earning all the plaudits in the Test arena, having enjoyed no fewer than 12. He has never, however, played against the Proteas. De Villiers will finally get a run-out against India, and will hope to take some form back with him to SA. By the end of the four-match spectacle at the end of the year, we can say for certain who the best in Tests is.