Tag Archives: Moeen Ali

My squad to defend the Ashes

There is no doubt that Joe Root’s first summer as England’s Test captain was a succsess. Both touring teams were beaten in their respective Test series – South Africa 3-1 (England’s first home series win over that country since 1998) and West Indies 2-1. An overall record of 5-2 in Test matches in 2017 must be regarded as a successful summer. 

But no season is perfect and 2017 was no exception. The biggest disappointment was that the weak links in the batting order – Numbers 2,3 and 5 – are no nearer to being resolved than they were at the start of the season. Keaton Jennings, Mark Stoneman, Gary Ballance, Tom Westley and Dawid Malan have all been tried in these positions and none of them have established themselves as Test batsmen. This is still the Achilles heel of this team. Too often Alistair Cook and Joe Root have had to carry the burden of top order run scoring.

And it is definitely NOT going to get any easier for Root and England. For next on the Test team’s agenda is the toughest asingment in Test cricket – a five Test Ashes series in Australia where England will try to defend the urn down under for only the third time since 1979. So with that in mind who would I take to Australia for this toughest of all Test tours? Well I’ve come up with sixteen names that I would take to defend the urn. Most of them will definitely be on the plane to Australia some are marginal choices and one is an uncapped “bolter” that I don’t think the selectors will pick but I would. So without further ado here are the sixteen men that I would pick to try and defend the Ashes this winter. 

Joe Root (captain) – No surprise here. All he needs to do is convert more fifties into hundreds like his opposite number Steve Smith does. And hopefully he won’t have to come in at 30-2 every innings….

Ben Stokes (vice-captain) – Again no surprises. His career trajectory is on the up – his batting average is now above his bowling average a key statistic for an all rounder. Two worries. Will he stay fit and can he cope with Australian provocation? He is one demerit point away from a one game ban a fact that the Aussies will doubtless remind him of. A lot….

Moeen Ali – Incredibly even at the start of the season England were saying that Liam Dawson not Ali was England’s number 1 spinner. They got that wrong. He, Stokes and Jonny Bairstow are the engine room of England’s team. One request : He should not bat at Number 8. Someone with five Test centuries should not be batting that low as too often he has to bat with the tail and try to slog. He is very good at that but he is a proper batsman and his position in the order should reflect that reality. 

James Anderson – A national treasure who has now reached 500 Test wickets. On his last tour of Australia hopefully his bowling average is nearer that of 2010-11 (26.04) than 2006-7 (82.40) or 2013-14 (43.92).

Jonny Bairstow – The only English batsman who has improved since the last Ashes series in 2015. An improving wicket keeper too. Hopefully batting at No 7 he will remind the Australians of their own famous wicket keeper-batsman Adam Gilchrist. 

Stuart Broad – Another automatic pick who was not at his best this summer. Hopefully he can produce one of those devastating spells he is famous for. Like the Oval 2009, Lord’s and Durham 2013, Trent Bridge 2015, Johannesburg 2016….

Alistair Cook – Another automatic pick who needs to contribute for England to win. A repeat of his 2010-11 average of 127.66 is unrealistic but he needs to do better than his 2006-7 average (27.60) or his 2013-14 average (27.60).

Mason Crane – One of two uncapped players in my squad. I nearly went for Adil Rashid who was unlucky to be dropped after the India series last winter but Crane was picked last winter to play for New South Wales in the Sheffield Shield. And bad players do not get picked for the Sheffield Shield. Plus it gives him the advantage of local knowledge….

Ben Foakes – And here is my second uncapped player. I’m not picking Joss Buttler for this tour as I think he has lost his enthusiasm for red ball cricket. Foakes has been called the best wicket keeper in England by former player Alec Stewart and averages over 40 in first class cricket. That is good enough for me.

Alex Hales – I would recall Hales but not as an opener. I’ve always thought he is more suited to the middle order where he is now batting for Nottinghamshire. His aggression could be useful in the middle order and I have picked him as a back up batsman ahead of Gary Ballance who has already been recalled twice and failed twice. 

Haseed Hameed – The big “what if?” of English cricket. Had he not got injured during the winter tour of India he might have continued his promising start and booked his place in the England team. But he has struggled this season not scoring a century for Lancashire. But he has started to show better form and his ability to “bat long” could be vital for England. A risky selection but a risk I would be prepared to take. 

Dawid Malan – Has not established himself in the team during his five Tests but I would still have him on the Ashes tour – just ahead of Tom Westley. He would not be in my first Test XI but would be a useful reserve. 

Toby Roland-Jones – Made a sensational Test debut against South Africa albeit in helpful conditions. Whether or not he can emulate that performance in Australian conditions is debatable but he deserves the opportunity to try. 

Mark Stoneman – Like Malan he hasn’t proved himself in his three Tests but he has made a couple of good scores and I think he has something about him.

Chris Woakes – Missed most of the season with injury which at least has the advantage of being fresh for the Ashes. One of England’s most improved players he has a key role to play with both bat and ball. 

Mark Wood – In my opinion he is a vital part of England’s Ashes challenge. One weakness of England’s bowling attack is a lack of pace. Wood is the fastest bowler available to England. Unfortunately his fitness record is not good and he struggles with back to back Tests. England will hope to get two good Tests out of him while praying for more. 

And the XI I would pick for the first Test at Brisbane starting on November 23 : Cook, Hameed, Stoneman, Root, Ali, Stokes, Bairstow, Woakes, Broad, Wood and Anderson.

Are England good enough to defend the Ashes in Australia? Time will tell…

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Beyond the Ashes

You would think that after regaining the Ashes in August the England cricket team would get a well earned break. They don’t get one. In fact their winter is going to be even tougher than the summer was with two tough away series against Pakistan – in the UAE* – and in South Africa.

Both series are important. England are hard to beat at home – only South Africa (twice) and Sri Lanka have won here since 2007 – but away from home they are poor. Take away no hopers Bangladesh and England have won just two of their last fifteen away series. And to be a great cricket team you must win on tour and in unfamiliar conditions as well as at home.

But the omens are not good. Both historical and current. This is the tenth away series since the war that England have played after retaining/regaining the Ashes at home. Of the previous nine they have won none. After a successful Ashes summer England ( perhaps subconsciously) relax. The classic case being a 0-2 defeat in Pakistan in the first series after the magnificent 2005 Ashes win.

The current situation is not promising either. England are being plunged into alien conditions with only four days of practice cricket as preparation. How alien conditions? The weather forecast for the first Test in Abu Dhabi is sunshine and for the temperature to reach 98 degrees. Not conditions that are normally seen in the UK! Nor can England’s seam bowlers expect the green pitches and swinging conditions they got at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge during the Ashes. Instead they will be slow low and help spin. England do not play spin well nor – since Graeme Swann retired and Monty Panesar fell by the wayside – do England have good spinners to exploit these conditions.

Also Pakistan are formidable in the UAE. The last time England played there in 2012 they lost all three Tests. Likewise Australia lost both their Tests in the UAE last year. Pakistan may not have their 2012 destroyer Saeed Ajmal – not the same bowler since he had to remodel his action after it was declared illegal – but new spinners Zulfiqar Babar and Yasir Shah embarrassed Australia last year and will aim to do the same to England. Their batting relies on the experience of captain Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan who scored five centuries in the two Tests against Australia last year but they also have opener Mohammad Hafeez and Azhar Ali who scored two centuries in one Test against Australia last year.

As for England not for the first time they look like picking the wrong team. It looks like Moeen Ali will open the batting in the first Test. This shows they have learnt nothing from past mistakes. They opened with Moeen in Sri Lanka last year. He did quite well but failed in the subsequent World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. This will happen again. He might do well in the UAE but will I fear be easy meat for Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel in South Africa. Nor should they open with Alex Hales who Australia’s fast bowlers exposed during the one day series as a 20 20 slogger. They have dropped Adam Lyth too soon. Whoever opens in this Test will captain Alistair Cook’s seventh Test opening partner in three years. Lyth scored a century against a good New Zealand attack and deserved another chance.

I hope James Taylor gets a chance. Kevin Pietersen in his autobiography (page 168) said “His dad was a jockey and he is built for the same gig”. Taylor is 5ft 6in. Sachin Tendulkar is 5ft 5in and he proved tall enough so that is more tripe from this egomaniac. Taylor is good at using his feet to play spin which you must do in order to play it well (and too many English batsmen are leaden footed).

If England emulate South Africa and New Zealand’s performance in the UAE and draw this series they will have done well. To win would be a great achivement. This series in as alien conditions as England will ever find will be a big test in the development of this young England team as we look beyond the Ashes.

*Pakistan have not played Test cricket at home since a terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan team in 2009. They play their “home” matches in the UAE – in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah.

Ashes to Ashes?

The 2015 Ashes begins tomorrow. In the wrong venue and at the wrong time. Apart from that it is perfectly timed! The cricket event between England and Australia is usually held every four years in each country (2001,2005,2009,2013 in England, 2002-3,2006-7,2010-11 in Australia for example). But to prepare England for their pathetic World Cup campaign the last Australian Ashes took place in 2013-14 instead of last winter (which meant there were back to back Ashes series a disaster for England). It also meant that the next English series was brought forward to this year instead of 2017. To my mind after 2013 the next Ashes should have been in 2015-16 – this winter – and the next English one should have stuck to 2017.

This is relevant because I’ve never known an Ashes series to get less publicity. The unexpected success of the Women’s Football World Cup has not helped but three Ashes series in two years is one too many. It might have worked in the 1970s where they were three in two and a bit years (1974-5,1975* and 1977) but the Ashes was far less hyped in the press back then and there was less sporting competition (no women’s football World Cup in the 1970s for example). This series could be “a series too far”.

Of course if England played well one suspects the country will get interested again. Problem here is that the First Test is in Cardiff which is not even in England has no tradition and the ground only exists as a Test quality venue because it was paid for by money from the devolved Welsh Government (thanks Tony Blair for the constitutional hooliganism!) As England have only ever played two Tests there for all practical purposes England have very generously given up home advantage for the First Test. Would Australia ever play the first Test of an Ashes series in say Darwin? Er no..

That said how will the series go? Again England are the victims of their own incompetence. The England team is rebuilding after the trauma of the Ashes whitewash of 2013-14 and the awful World Cup this past winter. They have a new coach in Australian Trevor Bayliss. Australia did the same before the 2013 Ashes when they sacked Mickey Arthur and appointed Darren Lehmann. It didn’t improve Australia at once – in the second Test of 2013 it was probably the worst Aussie team I’ve ever seen – but as there was a home Ashes for Australia later that year Lehmann could use the 2013 Ashes to improve his team. By the end of a 3-0 defeat they had improved and with the help of 95 mph demon bowler Mitchell Johnson and English complacency the 5-0 whitewash of 2013-14 occurred. But as the next Ashes series is not until 2017-18 in Australia England cannot use this series to improve – as they could have done if another country was here and the Ashes was not until this winter. They must hit the ground running now.

And if they are to do so the captain Alistair Cook must get runs. He has only had one good series against Australia – in 2010-11 when he averaged 127.66. In four other series against Australia he has not averaged more than 27.20. Since the strength of Australia is their fast bowlers- Mitchells Johnson and Starc, Josh Hazelwood and Peter Siddle – and Cook is England’s senior opener he must see off the fast bowlers with the new ball and get hundreds. Especially as his opening partner Adam Lyth and no 3 Gary Ballance have played one Ashes test between them (a sign of how much England have been rebuilding as this as mentioned above is the third Ashes series in two years). Also if Cook gets runs it sets up England’s counter attackers at numbers 5,6 and 7 – Joe Root, Ben Stokes and Joss Buttler – to hammer tiring fast bowlers. I’ll go as far to say if Cook does not get runs England struggle to compete in this series never mind win it.

Cook is important in another way too. His captaincy is far too safety first and conservative and it must change. For example England must target Australia’s off spinner Nathan Lyon. Captain Michael Clarke will aim to use Lyon in long spells to give his fast bowlers a rest. If he gets hammered he has to bring the fast bowlers back on they do more work and they get tired. In a series that sees five Tests between July 8th and August 24th tired fast bowlers could very well be a factor. Cook’s county Essex hammered Lyon in a warm up match and England must do the same. He also must attack when England are fielding especially when aggressive Australian opener David Warner is batting. Warner can take a game away from you very quickly and in my opinion the only way to contain him is to get him out and stop him batting. At some stage in the series he will run riot and England must stay calm don’t panic and don’t fall back on defence.

Sadly I think Cook is incapable of doing this. We will know tomorrow. If Moeen Ali is still in England’s team and Adil Rashid is not we will know fear has won. Why is Moeen in the team? It is not for his batting or else he would be higher than no 8 in the order. It is not for his bowling or else Cook would bowl him more. Rashid is a risk but he takes wickets and Australia struggled against leg spin on their recent tour of the Caribbean. You need to take 20 wickets to win a Test. Australia will target whatever spinner England play. Both could well get hammered but Rashid could get wickets. Besides England have Joe Root who can bowl off spin but no leg spinner. And leg spin could baffle Australia’s lower order – who made too many runs in 2013 and 2013-14 and must be dismissed quickly for England to compete.

Is there hope for England ? Yes. Australia have not won here since 2001 and no member of this current team has won a series in England. Plus Australia struggle away from their own fast bouncy pitches as defeats in India in 2013 and the UAE in 2014 (against Pakistan) show. Pitches in England are not fast and bouncy and the fast bowlers (none of whom apart from Siddle have a good record in England) could be neutralised. If they are and England target Lyon there is a chance. Plus go after the weak link. Wicket keeper Bard Haddin was a key player for Australia in 2013-14 but has barely made a run since and is past his best. Since the wicket keeper is a key player in a team if England can get Haddin struggling it could rub off on the whole Australian  team.

That said I fear this series has come too early in England’s rebuilding phase. They are not as good as in 2013 while Australia are better. If I was to predict the result I would say either 2-1 for Australia or a  2-2 draw (there has not been a drawn Ashes series since 1972 so you could say it is overdue) which would mean Australia as holders would keep the Ashes. Which would mean England would pay the ultimate price for their administrator’s incompetence.

*And the 1975 Ashes was not meant to take place. It was arranged as a replacement for a South African tour which was cancelled due to that country’s apartheid policies.

Moeen Ali, sport and politics

As well as writing this blog I sometimes comment on stories on the Daily Telegraph’s website. The debates can be “interesting” but I’ve never caused so much trouble as I did with my comments on the Moeen Ali affair. So I’m using this platform to explain my views on this issue.
For those who don’t know Moeen Ali is an english muslim cricketer who during the third Test between England and India came out to bat wearing wristbands saying “free Gaza” and “save Palestine”. The ECB who run english cricket said he’d done nothing wrong but the ICC the sport’s equivalent of FIFA banned him from wearing them. To my mind as a human being concerned about the death of children he had every right to comment on that issue. But the Telegraph’s readers slaughtered him coming out with that old chestnut “sport should be kept out of politics”.
There is one problem with this argument. Sport can’t be kept out of politics. The late great Nelson Mandela would confirm this. As did ex Pakistani cricketer Asif iqbal when he said “Sport is politicised the moment nation states take the decision to enter the sporting arena under their national banners” (Anyone but England, Mike Marquesee, page 250) Or Jennifer Doyle when she said “there is no such thing as an apoltical space” (The Sport Spectacle, Olympic Problem, August 2013). Sport is part of the real world. So is politics. They can’t avoid each other.
That raises the question: Why does the sporting establishment want to keep sport out of politics? What I am going to say now is just my theory. It might or might not be true.
I think – and most people would agree – that the sporting establishment can be racist, sexist homophobic, authoritarian and corrupt. Some governing bodies might be all of the above. As Margaret Talbot* says “sport remains one of the most conservative and inflexible areas of public life, lagging far behind other social structures”. Jean Williams has said “In England at least the topic of women’s sports should be more politicised” (A Game for Rough Girls? page 150). And Des Wilson ** asked “is sport accountable to no one? Why should it be unique in its ability to be so?”. Wilson has hit the nail on the head. The sporting establishment does not want to be accountable for its behaviour so by spreading the myth that sport and politics should be kept apart it prevents itself from suffering its worst nightmare. An independent regulator for sport as suggested by William Buckland in his book “Pommies” (pages 264-5) something that other industries face. Put simply the sporting establishment wants to do whatever it likes.
There is one irony though. By choosing dictatorships to host sporting events – from the 1934 World Cup to this years’ Winter Olympics – the sporting establishment causessport to be politicised as dictators from Mussolini to Putin use sports events as their “political plaything”. The sporting establishment in my opinion likes dictatorships – no pesky free press or protesters to worry about – so much so they don’t even realise they are bringing politics into their own events – the one thing they say they don’t want to do.
As for Moeen Ali yesterday he took six wickets to help win the Test match for England while being cheered by the crowd. That suggests either the public forgave him for his protest – or that they thought he had done nothing wrong in the first place. Either way the bigots of the “Torygraph” and the ICC are out of touch with the British public. Not for the first time…
*She was speaking at a European Women and Sport conference in 2000, but what she said could still apply today.
** Des Wilson is an interesting man. A New Zealander who came to Britain in 1960, among other things he founded the housing charity Shelter, stood as a Liberal candidate in Hove in 1973 and February 1974 and was the campaign manager of the Lib Dems in 1992. He was also a director of BAA plc and has written books on poker. He took a job at the ECB in 2003 but resigned a year later when he made the quote I used above. Described as an “anti-establishment radical” it will surprise no one that he is not now a Lib Dem and has been scathing about Nick Clegg (although he left the Lib Dems long before 2010). What does surprise me is that he took a job with the conservative and establishment ECB in the first place and it was no surprise to me he didn’t last long.