He may have taken a ten-wicket haul in the Lord’s Test, but England will continue to treat Moeen Ali as a batsman who “bowls a little”, according to their coach, Trevor Bayliss.
While Moeen, who claimed the best figures by an England spinner in a Lord’s Test since 1972, has risen into the top 20 on the ICC’s bowling rankings – and, at No. 4 in the allrounder rankings, is ahead of team-mate Ben Stokes – England look likely to stick with Liam Dawson as their first-choice spinner.
But if that appears to be a demotion for Moeen, Bayliss insisted it is more an attempt to alleviate him of too much pressure or expectation and suggested it was no impediment to his being England’s “best spinner”.
“We’ll stick with one spinner and one batter that bowls a little,” Bayliss said after victory at Lord’s. “And that’s important for Mo more than anything. He wants to be in the team as a batter that bowls a bit so we’ve selected him as a batter and the second spinner.
“It takes that little bit of pressure off him. He does see himself as a batter first and a spinner second. And I suppose that doesn’t mean he’s still not our best spinner but his No. 1 job is to bat.”
Moeen enjoyed an outstanding Test with the ball at Lord’s, taking his career average below 40. But, ahead of that game, his bowling average since the start of 2016 was 53.02 and there were times in India, in particular, when it seemed he was losing is way with the ball in a haze of confusion over what the side required of him. At the same time, he was scoring runs more consistently, recording four Test centuries in 2016, including two in the series in India.
While Dawson experienced a somewhat chequered game at Lord’s – he suffered a pair (he has been dismissed for a duck in three successive Test innings) but recovered after a nervous start with the ball to claim four wickets in the match – Bayliss feels the control his bowling can offer complements Moeen, in particular, and the make-up of the England side in general.
It is for that reason he was preferred to Adil Rashid for selection, despite Rashid’s 23 wickets in the series against India. In the one Test Dawson and Rashid played together, the former conceded three runs an over and eight boundaries from his 43 overs, the latter conceded 5.15 runs per over and 18 boundaries from his 29.4 overs.
“Moeen and Adil Rashid are very similar characters,” Bayliss said. “Both are attacking spinners and we just felt if we could get someone who could control a little better – and hopefully take some wickets as well – that might set us up more long-term.
“In the second innings, Dawson did that role very well. If it is tight at one end, it allows Mo – as an attacking style offspinner – to attack at the other.
“Liam admitted he was very nervous in the first innings. It was his first Test match at home and his first Test at Lord’s. It was one of those games when it didn’t quite come out for him how he would have liked in that first innings, but I thought he showed the character we know he has to come back and bowl better in the second innings. It was a good partnership with Mo.
“Dawson has the opportunity at the moment but there are a number of other good, young spinners – and Rash himself – pushing hard. But Dawson is the one with the opportunity at the moment. I thought in the one Test match he played in India, he was probably our best spinner. He deserves that opportunity.”
Bayliss also feel the team selected by England for the Lord’s Test has the versatility and depth to prove effective on most surfaces.
“The combination we had in this game could play on a lot of wickets,” he said. “We’re lucky that we have Ben Stokes, Jonny Bairstow and Ali who can bat five, six and seven. That allows us to have three other pace bowlers and another spinner. Somewhere along the line, we could throw in someone else in one of those positions, whether it is another batter, another pace bowler if we need one. It just gives us plenty of options.”
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo
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