Moeen Ali is relishing his preferred role back in England‘s Test side and hopes he has made a “fresh start” to his career.
On the all-rounder’s return after a miserable Ashes winter, and five subsequent months out of the team, only stoic India number three Cheteshwar Pujara (132 not out) was able to stop him running through the tourists on day two at the Ageas Bowl.
Moeen (5-63) was also back at the venue where he took six second-innings wickets on his last Test visit four years ago, in victory over these same opponents.
This time, as England try to stave off India’s mid-series fightback in this fourth Test, Pujara’s skilled determination gave India a marginal edge with 273 all out in reply to 246 – before the hosts closed on six for none.
Moeen, who made 40 from number seven on day one, said: “The role in the side now is my best role – mainly as a batter, then coming on as a second spinner gives me a lot more confidence and freedom, and I actually end up playing better. I’m trying to have a fresh start.”
If so, at the age of 31, it coincides with his 51st Test, having completed his half-century before being dropped against New Zealand in Christchurch.
Reflecting on that, he added: “It’s believing you’re not a bad player after one bad winter. Many players have gone through that, and for me it was just moving on, making you a better player, a stronger character. These things can happen to anybody.
“I shrugged it off, cleared my mind to try to get better, and that’s exactly what I feel I have been doing.”
A double-century and six wickets for Worcestershire against Yorkshire last week were timely factors.
“I’ve loved being back at Worcester,” he said. “It’s always nice to get a call-up when you’re in decent nick … you have that confidence coming into the game, and it’s doing what county cricket should be doing.”
His previous success at Southampton put a spring in his step too. “The last time I was here just gave me a bit of confidence for today,” he said.
“I was bowling the same end, and it brings back those memories, it’s always nice to have that in the back of your mind. The spin was nice, and it did last time as well. After my first over today, I thought I was going to be in the game throughout this Test match.”
Ben Stokes trapped Ajinkya Rahane lbw in the 47th over for 11. The batsman decided to review the decision and that’s when controversy erupted.
The third umpire first checked for a no-ball and it was all the more criticial as Stokes had been bowling big no-balls throughout Friday. In the TV replays, Stokes’ front foot was once again found to have finished over the line.
However, the third umpire Joel Wilson called it a fair delivery as a part of Stokes’ raised heel was deemed to be behind the crease at the point of delivery. The follow-up ball-tracking showed Rahane was out lbw.
Indian cricket fans took to social media to express their anguish as close up images of Stokes’ full delivery stride showed Stokes’ front foot to be over the line at the time of release.
A ball is deemed to be a fair delivery if a part of the bowlers’ foot is seen to be behind to crease even if the boot is raised in the delivery stride.
WICKET! Stokes traps Rahane lbw for 11 - after nearly over-stepping.— Sky Sports Cricket (@SkyCricket) August 31, 2018
"It was mighty close," says Nasser Hussain, of that front foot call.
India 161-4 trail by 85 runs. Watch the fourth #EngvInd Test on Sky Sports Cricket & Main Event or follow here: https://t.co/0YEKSzkL1J pic.twitter.com/AllIE1nw0s
After yet another catastrophic failure from England’s top order on the opening day of the fourth Test against India in Southampton, the selectors are once again looking for solutions ahead of what is shaping up as a deciding fifth Test at The Oval.
The England openers, Alastair Cook and Keaton Jennings, have been nothing short of a disaster with Cook averaging just 16.16 in the series to date and Jennings a woeful 15.66.
Jennings’ highest score in six innings so far is 42 while Cook’s is just 29. Their opening partnerships in the series read like this: 26, 9, 28, 54, 27 and 1 for a pitiful average of just 24.
Keaton Jennings has now gone 15 Test innings without reaching 50. His last half-century was in his maiden Test series in 2016.— Test Match Special (@bbctms) August 30, 2018
📻 @5liveSport Extra & @BBCRadio4 LW
🌍 https://t.co/18OuNOe9YQ #ENGvIND #bbccricket pic.twitter.com/eJYp636d31
So bad was Jennings latest dismissal that former England captain Michael Vaughan described it on Thursday as a “bad a dismissal as you can see in Test match cricket”.
Captain and No3 Joe Root hasn’t been much better with a humble average of 24.33 in the series.
With those kind of stats it is incredible England still hold a 2-1 advantage.
England clearly need to do something and quick or they are in danger of becoming the first team since England’s 1936-37 Ashes side to lose a five-match series after leading 2-0.
With the Three Lions desperately in need of answer, here are our three quick fixes to help the top order batting ahead of the fifth Test starting on September 7.
Rory Burns surpasses 1,000 First-Class runs for the 5th season running...— County Championship (@CountyChamp) August 29, 2018
2018: 1,004 (9 innings to go)
Videos & Scorecards: https://t.co/MSBl0y9Nwl pic.twitter.com/fdCbFnYAEI
1. Rory Burns
Calls for the inclusion of the Surrey opener are growing in strength and deservedly so as 28-year-old Burns is the County Championship’s heaviest runscorer this season and the most consistent domestic batsman in the country for five years.
Over the last four seasons he has topped 1000 runs in England’s top division begging the question why the stylish left-hander has not been given his chance beforehand.
He is on his way to doing the same this year as he currently sits on top of the runscorers’ list 961 runs, from 15 innings at an average of 64.06 with a high score of 193 against Worcestershire at The Oval back in May.
The only question mark around his form could be his 5 and 38 for England Lions against India at Worcester in July, but he made 153 against Notts less than a week later.
2. Ian Bell
Bell showed England exactly what they were missing with a double century to guide Warwickshire into a commanding position against Glamorgan at Colwyn Bay this week.
While the national team’s batsmen were floundering against India at the Ageas Bowl, the 36-year-old – who has never hidden hopes of an international recall – scored 204 out of Warwickshire’s 445 for eight.
It was Bell’s third championship century of the season against Glamorgan and saw him pass 20,000 first-class runs in his career.
Bell played the last of his 118 Tests when England lost to Pakistan in Sharjah in November 2015.
“It meant a lot for me, especially after the disappointments of last year,” said Bell, “but it has been a good day for the team. We have a big lead, and hopefully our bowlers can do the job on Friday.”
When asked about a possible England recall, Bell added: “I’m enjoying my cricket with Warwickshire at the moment, but I will certainly answer the phone if they call.”
Dawid Malan repels Jofra Archer with innings of value - Cricinfo https://t.co/LbsqVL4u3h— Cricket aggbot (@UK_Cricket_News) August 30, 2018
3. Dawid Malan
With India’s pace quartet currently bending it like a banana England desperately require someone who can occupy the crease to dull the new-ball.
Although he started the series poorly with scores of 8 and 20 in Birmingham, and some shocking dropped catches, and was dropped after just one Test, the 30-year-old showed exactly what he is capable of on Thursday with a stoic unbeaten half-century to keep alive Middlesex’s hopes of victory over promotion-chasing Sussex on day two at Lord’s.
The Middlesex skipper produced a timely return to form, hitting 69 not out to guide the hosts to 210-5, a lead of 208 in three absorbing sessions at the Home of Cricket.
His was a study in defiance and concentration, exactly what England need right now, as he batted for four hours and 11 minutes and faced 173 balls in an innings that included just five boundaries.
Malan averages 67.7 balls per Test innings while Keaton Jennings averages only 52.4.
Another option is another recent discard, Mark Stoneman, who occupies the crease 59.4 balls per Test innings, again better than Jennings, and returned to form with a spanking 144 for Surrey against Nottinghamshire in the County Championship on Thursday.
James Vince is also hovering after being put on standby for the Southampton Test for Jonny Bairstow after scoring 74 and 147 for Hampshire against Nottinghamshire at the same venue in the County Championship just a week prior.
His balls faced per Test innings is the worse of the lot though with on average 50 per Test knock.
WILDCARD: Sam Curran
Although this may seem the most desperate of the choices there is a current example of an all-rounder who started batting low in the order but now is the leading batsmen for their team – Steve Smith.
Curran has been world-class so far in the series, saving England with superb second innings of 63 in Birmingham and Thursday’s 78 in Southampton.
He has scored the second-most runs for England behind Jonny Bairstow in the series with 205 and has the second best average of 51.25, behind Chris Woakes. The only person to have a better average than him or score more runs in the series is Virat Kohli.
Barely 20 Curran has shown exceptional maturity and rare courage and no doubt would welcome the challenge of being offered the No3 spot.
If not Curran then why not play Chris Woakes as a specialist batsmen. His technique and temperament, as she displayed in his superb 137no at Lord’s, is currently better than most of the England top four.