Moeen Ali is the first player since 1935 to open for England having never opened in a first-class match before. He’s unlikely to open against the Proteas at the end of the year, so you’ve got to ask: Why?
I’m in the cool confines of the air-conditioned media box at Sheikh Zayed Stadium as I write this. Outside, though, the temperature is unbearable. Just the walk from the taxi to the stadium left me soaked, and it’s not even summer here. I can only imagine what the players are going through in the middle. Pakistan, however, know these conditions all too well. Their record here suggests so, too. As the English bowlers toil in the sweltering conditions and the Pakistani batsmen thrive, each run becomes one more that England need to get. The ‘hosts’ have just passed 350. They’re only four wickets down. This is going to be a long contest.
In conditions that offer little for the pace bowlers, this will be a battle of the spinners. Or rather, should be. Adil Rashid has been woeful on debut. One good ball an over fails to compensate for the four or five schoolboy deliveries he bowls. He won’t survive Test cricket like this. Moeen Ali is the other spinner. He’s bowling straight with good lengths, but he’s far too predictable to make an impact. It’s fine though, because he’s a batsman, isn’t he? Or is he a bowler? I don’t actually know.
Surely he is a batsman, because he’s going to open with Alastair Cook – Cook’s seventh partner since Andrew Strauss retired in 2012. To Moeen’s credit, he has performed respectably wherever he has been asked to bat. He has batted low because he’s a bowler who can bat a bit. Now that there’s space at the top, he’s going to bat higher and bowl a bit.
Andrew Hall might cross your mind as I discuss this. That 163 against India. Brilliant as it was, you and I both knew that it wasn’t going to be a permanent thing. Two failures in the next Test and Hall was out of there quicker than you can say first and last century.
I’m basically trying to say enough of this ‘bits and pieces’ situation. If you’re a bowler, then stick to bowling and bat lower down. If you’re a batsman, then score tons of runs high up the order. If you’re an all-rounder, then be world-class in at least one discipline.
This makeshift plan for Moeen won’t end well. It will be argued that this is a temporary thing because the conditions are vastly different to those of South African. If he doesn’t open against the Proteas, though, then England are going to go in cold with a new opener yet again. If the conditions are too difficult here for Alex Hales to play in, then why pick him at all? This is international Test cricket – you need to be able to play everywhere.
If Moeen does indeed perform, then that might just be one less selection headache for coach Trevor Bayliss to think about, as the selection conundrums grow elsewhere with each innings. Or does it create a bigger headache? Do you stick with him against the Proteas? The faster decks do indeed suit the exciting Hales, but with Rashid likely to miss out, Moeen will probably be the frontline spinner. Opening batsman and frontline spinner – never opened in a first-class match, with a first-class bowling average of 40. The mere thought of it gives me a headache.