England’s commitment to Moeen Ali as Alastair Cook’s new Test opening partner is likely to be set in stone once the team is announced for the final warm-up match against Pakistan A.
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Moeen was selected ahead of Alex Hales for the first of two fixtures this week, a strong hint already that England favour his promotion up the order rather than blooding a debutant.
The all-rounder, also a key component as one of two frontline spinners against Pakistan in three Tests starting in Abu Dhabi next week, neither took nor fluffed his chance with 22 runs from 46 balls in Sharjah before he was caught pulling to deep square-leg.
England were sufficiently impressed with his efforts, assistant coach Paul Farbrace saying that all will become “absolutely clear” about plans for the first Test once the line-up for the second two-day match against the same opponents is named on Thursday.
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Coach Trevor Bayliss said, even before a ball was bowled on this tour at a joint press conference in Dubai with captain Alastair Cook, that he anticipated all 16 squad members would have a chance to push their claims in the middle for Test selection.
That would require five changes to the team which first took the field – and especially in a key position such as a new opening partner for the captain, it is hard to consider the selectors would decline the opportunity of two innings together for the new pair.
Reflecting on an opening stalemate in which – after 90 overs of batting for each team – England made 70 more runs than their hosts, Farbrace cited a de-brief between captain and coach before Test plans are finalised.
“That’s still something (Bayliss) and Cookie need to decide on,” he said. “Once those two have made the call over the next two days, that will give everybody a fair indication over what’s being thought of as regards the side for next Tuesday.
“Mo’s had first go and we were very pleased with the way he applied himself… and that first hour was very difficult,” Farbrace added.
England have several players with more than one string to their bow, including four all-rounders and two wicketkeeper-batsmen.
Farbrace added: “I think that’s the conundrum, to make sure we get the balance absolutely right. “There are lots of players who can give you two things – and sometimes that can confuse matters – but it will be absolutely clear come Thursday what our team will look like for the Test.”
As England juggle their options, and players attune themselves to unaccustomed dry desert pitches and searing heat, Farbrace reports they have been helped significantly already by Mahela Jayawardene.
The former Sri Lanka great, with whom Farbrace and Bayliss both worked when they coached the Test team together in Colombo, is a batting consultant for England in the early stages of this tour.
“He’s fitted in brilliantly, and his communication is outstanding,” said Farbrace. “He’s shared every bit of knowledge he’s got. He is Sri Lanka’s best-ever captain, so tactically he’s been great.
“Within our group, Trevor and I haven’t played international cricket – (bowling coach) Ottis (Gibson), Ramps (batting coach Mark Ramprakash) and obviously Mahela have.
“Players listen to them automatically, because they know they have achieved at that level, and I think that’s a really good balance to have in our set-up.”
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