Well, I enjoyed the first session. It was possibly the most entertaining passage of play all series. England’s tail knew they wouldn’t be able to survive for long, so they basically threw the bat at everything and hoped for the best. The fact we almost scraped up to 350 was a minor miracle. It’s just a shame that we used up five days worth of luck in the process.
But can one really call it ‘luck’ when Australia fielded in such comic fashion? After Steve Smith flew to his left and caught Malan one-handed at second slip – a brilliant effort – the Aussies dropped two catches most village third XI players would snare. Cummins dropped a dolly at mid-on, which was bad enough, but then Hazlewood dropped an absolute clanger at mid-wicket. He didn’t even get a hand on it. He looked like a blind seal vainly flapping at a wet fish.
Fortunately Tom Curran and then Stuart Broad were able to capitalise on the hilarity – the bizarre nature of which must have had cynics wondering about spot fixing. Curran played a number of impressive shots and proved he has some talent with the bat. He’s not quite a test number eight but there’s something to work with. Broad, meanwhile, was waiting for the short ball and managed to plunder a few boundaries.
Overall, however, I felt that England’s 348 was about one hundred runs short of par. It was fun while it lasted but one sensed that Australia were always in the driving seat. The fact they finished today on 193-2, with the pitch looking very flat, seems ominous. England will be disappointed that Usman Khawaja, of all people, is approaching a hundred. After Mitchell Marsh scored a hundred at Perth, a ton for Khawaja here would really rub salt in the wounds and raise question marks about England’s attack.
Before I sign off I’d quickly like to mention England’s two spinners. What did you make of Mason Crane? From what I’ve seen he bowled a few bad balls but overall looked comfortable enough on the big stage. He got the ball to turn a bit too, which is good to see after the buffet diet served up by Mo this winter.
If England give Crane a run in the side now – and that’s very possible with games against New Zealand, India, and then Sri Lanka and the West Indies to come – could this be the end of Mo’s test career? Unfortunately I think it could.
I’ve been Mo’s biggest supporter over the years. I reminded everyone on Twitter that he look 24 wickets at 16 against South Africa last summer. Plus I worked out a few months ago that Mo’s strike rate was briefly better than Graeme Swann’s after his man of the match performance at Lord’s in July. However, we cannot afford to keep picking a spinner who only performs at home.
Moeen averages a respectable 33 in England, but 65 in India, 49 in South Africa, 49 in the UAE, and 152 in this series thus far. That means he’s let us down four winters in a row. It’s all very well chipping in at home, but the team needs a reliable spinner abroad more than they do on England’s greenish pitches (when there’s more assistance for our seamers).
I’ve heard it argued that England have nobody better, so Mo must keep playing. But the ‘there is no alternative’ argument doesn’t stack up for one simple reason: unfortunately Mo hasn’t improved one bit in his four years as an international bowler. Indeed, one could argue that his best series performance came back in 2013 against India at home.
As a result, England need to invest in someone new – someone who might actually improve. When Australia first picked Nathan Lyon he wasn’t particularly effective but he’s gradually grown into a top quality international spinner. Perhaps Mason Crane is that viable alternative prospect we’ve been hoping for? Or perhaps it’s Jack Leach or Dom Bess?
Mo’s batting has also been really disappointing on this tour and I no longer believe he’s capable of holding down a spot as a batsman alone. His innings yesterday was quite frankly embarrassing. it was one of those when it might have been better to get a golden duck (because getting out early can happen to anyone). Mo is a sitting duck against the short ball, and his shot selection has never been particularly good.
I’ve watched Moeen at Worcs since he was a nipper, and I always thought he was brilliant to watch but ultimately too loose to be a consistent performer at the highest level. It’s why his first class average is only 38.
It pains me to say this, as Mo is occasionally capable of playing superbly, but if he’s not good enough to get in the side as either a batsman or a bowler, is he a luxury the team can afford? It might be time to look for someone with less style but more substance.