This post contains two parts, a look at current goings on in Pakistan and a look at England spinners ahead of the upcoming tour of India. The feature infographic provides a brief version of why I less than impressed by news of a possible test recall for Moeen Ali, and I will cover it more fully in the second part of this post. All player details come from cricinfo.com.
SOUTH AFRICA IN TROUBLE
The first test match to be played in Pakistan for some considerable time is under way. South Africa, the visitors, batted first, and did not make a particularly good fist of it. No one in their top six scored less than 13, but only Dean Elgar with 58 managed to get beyond 23. It took a late 35 from George Linde to get South Africa to 220. Five of the top six (where most of the runs should come from) getting into double figures but not even reaching 25 suggests carelessness, and reports I have read of the wickets confirm that more of them were given than were taken.
Pakistan looked to faring even worse when South Africa reduced them to 33-4 by the close of the first day. However, Fawad Alam dug in, and found some good support from the middle and lower order. Alam ground out a determined century, with no8 Faheem Ashraf (fairly new to test cricket, but averaging 31 with the bat and 27 with the ball in first cricket) scoring 64. By the time stumps were drawn at the end of day two, Pakistan were 308-8, a lead of 88. I don’t think it will happen, but personally just for the psychological impact of telling the opposition “you had us 33-4 and now we reckon we have enough of an advantage to win” I would recommend an overnight declaration. It was not all bad for South Africa today however – their women recorded an impressive win in an ODI against Pakistan, Laura Wolvaardt scoring 58 – perhaps the men should give her a bell, as their top order could do with a bit of stiffening.
Leaving aside Simon Harmer, now technically eligible for England but apparently not in the selector’s minds, England have a number of spinning options they could look at, and Moeen Ali, touted for a test recall in some quarters, is not in my opinion one of them. He pays 36.59 per wicket in test cricket, a marginal improvement on his first class bowling average of 37.94. His batting, which his supporters turn to next demands two retorts: firstly picking people for bowling slots based on what they can do with the bat is flawed, unless they have very similar bowling stats to someone with much less batting skill, and secondly at test level it does not pass muster anyway – while his first class batting average is a respectable 36.72, his test batting average is 28.97, at the good end of ‘bowler who bats’ territory but definitely nowhere close to all-rounder status. In other words England are thinking of recalling someone whose bowling is in the ordinary range of ‘batters who bowl’ (Hammond, who averaged 58.45 with the bat at test level took his wickets at 37.80 for example) and whose batting is at the good end of the range for ‘bowlers who bat’.
Dom Bess, one of the current incumbents, pays 29.46 for his first class wickets, and just over 30 each for his test victims. Sophie Ecclestone, a very successful bowler for England Women, averages 26.28 across the three international formats (the women play so little long form cricket that one has to look across the spectrum) – and yes, I would certainly rate her a better option for a spinner’s berth than Ali. Jack Leach pays 26.06 a time for his first class victims, and averages just over 30 per victim in test cricket. Matt Parkinson, yet to be given his chance at test level pays 25.22 per victim at first class level. Liam Patterson-White has played just five first class matches to date, but has 20 wickets in them at 21.00 a piece. Amar Virdi has paid 28.08 each for his 91 first class wickets. Finally, if you absolutely insist on someone with all round qualities, Lewis Goldsworthy had an excellent under 19 world cup, though he has yet to play first class cricket (it would not be entirely unprecedented for someone to make their first class debut in a test match). Moeen Ali sits firmly in the category of proven failures at the highest level, and any of the players I have listed would be better selections than him – all are young enough to improve, whereas he is not. My personal vote would go to Parkinson, the leg spinner, to support Jack Leach, with Bess coming in if the pitch looks it warrants three spinners (Bess takes wickets when the ball turns, but when there is no assistance for him he leaks too many runs for comfort due to his tendency to bowl the odd loose ball). Whatever the right answer is, it is most definitely not an ageing player who cannot be deemed worthy of a place with either bat or ball.
My usual sign off…