Thirty Nine Balls Away – Agony in Dubai

Six and a half overs. Thirty-nine balls. That’s how close we were to saving the second test. Defeat is obviously disappointing, and questions remain over the composition of the side, but it was extremely heartening to see our lower order take the game to the wire. The lads played well today. Well done.

Adil Rashid batted magnificently. I’ve seen him bat a lot in the past, and always thought he was more than handy, but today he reached heights I’d never seen before. He showed exceptional judgement, left the ball magnificently, and demonstrated really good hands: he has quick wrists, plays the ball softly when he needs to, and moved his feet well too. It’s a real shame his brain farted at the end. I suppose he just lost concentration.

I doubt anyone will blame Rashid for the loss. Everyone knows we lost the match on the third morning when we tossed away seven quick wickets. Our top order also let us down in the second innings. Cook, Moeen, Bairstow and Stokes all played bad shots. If only they could have survived another 39 balls collectively.

It will take something special for us to tie the series in Sharjah. Of all the grounds in the UAE, Sharjah probably spins the most. It will probably offer our seamers diddly squat. I just hope we put up another good fight. It was refreshing to see Broad, Wood and Rashid show some serious cojones in what looked like a lost cause.

The key question now is what XI England should pick in the series finale. My best bet is they pick an unchanged side. Management teams are usually a stubborn lot. The promotion of Moeen and retention of Buttler have become so contentious that they’ll probably want to give these guys every opportunity to prove them right (and everyone else wrong). We’ll see.

Personally I’d like to see England switch things around. Whoever thought Mooen would make a good opener needs to be put in the stocks. I’ll gladly supply passers-by with rotten tomatoes and eggs to fling at them too. It was always a totally daft idea.

As a Worcestershire fan I’ve watched Moeen’s career very closely – probably much closer than the selectors – and I wouldn’t advocate him opening in first class cricket, let alone test cricket. The decision was absolute madness. When I first heard the rumour that Mo might open in the UAE I almost wet myself laughing. I couldn’t believe it was true. My laughter has now turned to tears.

In many ways I think Moeen has been set up to fail. I don’t mean they’ve deliberately sabotaged his England career or anything like that, but this daft experiment was always going to put him under pressure he simply didn’t need.

With Rashid scoring runs at Moeen’s old number eight spot, people are suddenly wondering whether Mo’s worth a place in the XI at all. I’ve even heard calls for Samit Patel to replace him. England have basically taken a guy who was flourishing down the order – one of the few batting successes of the Ashes – and screwed him up.

Moeen must be feeling very unsettled at this moment in time. His confidence will be low. He’ll be feeling unsure of his role moving forward. And I bet nobody even considered how his poor batting form might affect his bowling #duh.

England’s problem of course – and we said this when the squad was announced in the first place – is there’s no proper opener waiting to replace him. There’s always Alex Hales I suppose, but he’s not someone who convinces me in the slightest – not as an opener anyway. I can see him being successful down the order, but he’s looked dreadful at the top of the order in the ODIs.

It was reassuring today to hear Marcus Trescothick suggest something I’ve banged on about before: moving Bell up to open. Cook and Bell were a relatively successful (if a little one-paced) ODI opening partnership, so this would’ve made a lot more sense than promoting Mo. You can hear Tresco’s thoughts on this very subject above.

The other change I’d make is to put poor Jos out of his misery. England can’t afford to keep picking two technically flawed batsmen-keepers. It’s time to hand Bairstow the gloves.

I say this with some apprehension however. The shot Bairstow played when he was out bowled today – playing across the line with a unsightly flick – was something schoolboys get berated for. The problem is we can’t afford any passengers at the moment. Jonny is technically the reserve keeper in the squad so it’s time to step up.

I also think it’s time to give James Taylor a go. Once again I have to admit I’m not the pocket rocket’s biggest fan, but I do believe he’s a better player of spin than many of his colleagues. Taylor has quick feet, a good attitude, and an unorthodox method that might take Pakistan a while to fathom. Let’s see how he goes.

In my preferred XI, Taylor would simply come in for Buttler with Moeen moving down the order. Don’t be surprised, however, if it’s Patel, not Ali, who actually plays at seven when the teams are announced in Sharjah. I’ve just got a hunch.

Then again, as I said earlier in this piece I can see England fielding exactly the same XI too. Did you see how I covered my bases there?

TFT XI: Cook, Bell, Taylor, Root, Bairstow, Stokes, Moeen, Rashid, Broad, Wood, Anderson

James Morgan


  • I would pick your XI but would drop Stokes down the order and move Rashid and Ali in front of him. They are in better form.

  • Moeen mainly bats at three for Worcestershire. I am guessing that fairly often he has found himself in to bat pretty early in an innings. Is there really that much difference between three and opening? I don’t reckon there is.

    Whilst he wouldn’t have been my choice for opening the batting I don’t think it is that silly a decision and I don’t think he has been set up to fail.

    Just change Taylor for Buttler and hope for a bit more luck with the toss and we might be alright.

  • I quite like you suggestions.
    Putting Bell in one of the opening spots is a neat alternative to dropping him, and he’s as likely to succeed there as any other alternative drafted in at short notice.

    One thing in Bairstow’s favour – he does seem to pick the length of the ball and move his feet. Learning to play less with the bottom hand – his nemesis at the moment – is a far easier adjustment than learning to move to the pitch of the ball.

  • Like your line up Morgs, I think Hales is worth a go to open, that’s what he does for Notts after all, it’s time to stop shoe horning Bell into the side.

    It should always have been Bairstow or Buttler not both, it’s ok having 4 attacking batsmen in the line up but if 2 and 3 fail 8 times out of 10 then they’re horribly exposed to a fresh bowling attack.

    I don’t think Lyth’s failure has done Mo any favours either, get him back down to 8, judge him on his bowling and enjoy the bonus of his lower order runs.

    • If you judged him by his bowling he Mo would be hard to justify in the team. as batting all rounder he’s a good pick. As a bowler not so much.

  • Taylor for Buttler only for me, leaving Moeen opening even though it’s one of the most ludicrous sporting experiments I’ve ever seen. Assuming Bell plays, he might well be playing for his career, so I don’t think it’s fair to bump him up to open (although that’s what I would have done for the First Test if I’d had to work with this squad – I’d actually have stuck with Lyth but that’s another issue). So Cook, Moeen, Bell, Root, Taylor, Bairstow, Stokes, Rashid, Broad, Wood, Anderson.

    I’ll be surprised if we drop Moeen for Patel, given the latter’s probably worse at both batting and bowling. Actually, having considered it, I won’t be.

    God knows what we’re going to do in SA – surely we’re not going to chuck Hales in vs Steyn and Morkel…?

    ….we are, aren’t we..?

    • I really don’t want to move Ian Bell around. He’s just played a decent inns at 3. I just don’t see any real alternatives.

      Let’s just say that we’re screwed whatever we do. People will have different views on which option is the lesser of the evils.

      • Indeed…I think they should pull in a sacrificial county lag for SA rather than destroy the confidence of a newcomer. Mike Carberry maybe? But “screwed” sums it up pretty well…

      • Looks as though, assuming Cook fit, the only change will be Taylor for Buttler.
        On reflection probably right, as Bell is unlikely to make a success of opening against the SA quicks, so little point in moving him up in the order now.

        Going to be interesting to see who will be Cook’s next partner, in due course.

  • Whilst I fully understand the clamour to replace Buttler with Bairstow as keeper, what I want to know is just how good is Bairstow behind the stumps compared to Buttler, especially when it is spinning. Scoring 20 – 30 more runs than Buttler isn’t much help if he’s going to drop a few.

    I like your line-up although I would want to tweak it slightly as follows:

    Cook, Bell, Taylor, Root, Moeen, Bairstow or Buttler, Stokes, Rashid, Broad, Wood, Anderson

    Whichever way you look at it the sad facts are we are missing an opener and at least one more quality specialist batsman, we don’t know which way to go re spin and there are question marks about both of our wicketkeeper options.

    Great stuff today though – proper 5 day test match excitement. Shame about the brain fart!

    • Scoring 20 – 30 more runs than Buttler isn’t much help if he’s going to drop a few.
      It’s Buttler that’s been dropping/missing catches recently.

      • Agreed – I just want to be assured that he’s not worse than him! What is clear is that we really shouldn’t have both of them in the team so if Bairstow is in better nick for both the keeping and the batting then it has to be a case of so long Jos

        • I’ve been advocating for a while now that we rotate them depending upon form.
          Right now, Buttler looks shot, but I have little doubt he’ll fight his way back.

          Of the two, I think Bairstow slightly more likely to hold down a long term test place on batting alone, but he needs to up his game a bit for that. Possibly he should spend some time in the nets batting with his left hand only…

        • It’s long troubled me that when it comes to that position, England don’t think keeping skills are a priority, else Foster would probably have 100 caps by now.

  • Bairstow keeps to Rashid at Yorkshire and has kept in a lot more first class games than Buttler has over his career.

  • It seems ok when I have seen him and I cannot think of any howlers.

    Buttler is a strange case in that a few years ago I wondered whether he needed to be a keeper based on his talent with the bat. Limited overs wise despite his poor recent form he is in the best six limited overs batsman in England. The problem with this is that whilst he has been with the England limited overs squads since 2012 he hasn’t been getting games with the gloves in first class cricket under his belt. Added to that before he was with England he didn’t often get the gloves because of Craig Kieswetter.

    Buttler might be the better option long term but for now needs to be replaced.

  • I think Pringle is doing his best to place the blame on Rashid.

    And it was probably mental fatigue. It’s quite warm out there and Rashid is in his *drum roll* 2nd Test. So *clearly* he has all the experience required to dig the team out of a hole after most of the batsmen (including Saint Cook) dropped the ball.

    • Derek Pringle and generosity of spirit are not exactly synonymous.

      (Rather disturbingly, autocorrect wants to call him “Pringles”…)

  • As to the 3rd Test. Move Moeen down into the middle order. Drop one of Buttler or Bairstow. Bring Hales in to open. Someone thought he was good enough to be in the squad as backup opener. Time to find out.

    (Much as with Rashid’s history, we have to stop picking players for the squad and then flying someone else in to play instead. We have to find out about players and you do that by playing them.)

  • Can see the most radical they’re likely to be will be to let Bell open (‘he’s always seen himself as an opener’), Buttler out with Moen to 5 and Johnny B to 7 and keep. Wood might miss out if he’s knackered

    Don’t believe they have any faith in Hales. Indeed, I can see another opener entirely going to SA…

  • Cook, Ali, Bell, Root, Taylor, Bairstow, Rashid, Plunkett, Wood, Broad, Anderson.

    I’m one of those idiots who thought the Mo experiment might work, so as I’m stubborn it gets one more go. As mentioned above he bats 3 for Worcester so is in early quite often. He left well in the 1st test so surely he can do it again.
    Jos just simply can’t play, the lad has no confidence. I’d actually give him the rest of the winter off and send him to the big bash, let him feel bat on ball, regain some confidence and hopefully he’ll be much better for it.

    As for the bowling we need 20 wickets. Pace bowling is our strong point and Pakistan look unsure, I’d drop Stokes for Plunkett and go all out attack.

  • Moeen in the top six is utterly clueless. Bairstow isn’t good enough for top six, neither is stokes. Bell really needs to go back to 5 if he’s to stay in the team but then you need to blood some new players in at 5/6.

    Compton or Lyth back to open, Compton as he’s done the best of them all opening and Lyth as he’s earned more of a go opening on Lvcc form.. Plus, Ffs hales and moeen are crap.

    Taylor in at 3, although I’d prefer him at six initially but hey ho. I don’t think we have the talent around unfortunately so the media need to stop saying how good we are.. We beat a utterly diabolical Aus team on doctored wickets.

    • Lyth had a full summer of seven Tests at home to make him mark. He got shown up by good quality pace and his technique was found seriously wanting. Sending him off to play much better quality pace on much faster pitches seems hard to justify.

  • You’d have to ask the selectors. I can’t see how believing Lyth’s CC runs shouldn’t outweigh his proven failure and deficiencies at Test level makes me spokesman for the rest of the team, but still;

    If one were inclined to make a defence, I’m sure Bell’s twenty odd Test centuries and nearly 8000 runs warrant more leeway than a few runs against county plodders.

    Stokes is worth persevering with, Moeen should never have been opening (possibly shouldn’t be in the side, at least not fulltime), Bairstow I suspect will never be a Test batsman and is a selectoral blind alley, Buttler is very talented, clearly needs a break and has, in fact, been dropped.


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