#360view: Batting issues have cost England dearly in Dubai

Barnaby Read 18:35 25/10/2015
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Under pressure: (L-R) Moeen, Buttler and Bell.

As England’s batsmen were pulled apart at the seams by Pakistan’s bowling attack in Dubai, those who followed their Ashes win over Australia this past summer saw the same glaring problems that could have so easily seen that campaign end in defeat.

England looked to address these issues when their touring squad was announced to take on Pakistan, but the cracks seem to have been papered over rather than filled.

In this second Test, those cracks have been exposed once again, the facade crumbling further and the remaining crevice crudely widened by Imran Khan, Wahab Riaz and Yasir Shah.

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Adam Lyth’s failure against the Aussies was addressed by the call-up of Alex Hales and noises that Moeen Ali could be bumped up the order, paving the way for England to comfortably afford playing two spinners.

The latter indeed went ahead and Ali’s first outing as a Test opener in Abu Dhabi wasn’t the worst audition. He made 35 runs from 131 balls that seemed to suggest the otherwise aggressive Moeen could adapt a more patient approach to the longer format. But it appeared Ali was reigning in the natural game that had previously brought him such success in a freer role at number 8.

A hurried second innings of 11 seemed still too soon  to judge but two scores of 1 here in Dubai have exposed Moeen for what he is – a makeshift Test opener.

There is, but it would change the dynamic of England’s side.

Quite simply, Hales could come in to partner Cook at the top of the order but in doing so, they would still want to make room for Moeen, his value with bat and ball a vital component in this Test side.

Hales, yet to make his debut in Test cricket, scored 892 runs at 49.55 in 11 matches in the County Championship last year, one of the Nottinghamshire batsman’s finest seasons in county cricket.

Moeen and Hales (r) were in a straight battle to open in the UAE.

England will not only be wary of disrupting their balance but also the implications of replacing yet another Test opener, just two games into Moeen’s stint alongside Cook.

A huge worry for England is the form of Jos Buttler and Ian Bell.

Until the start of England’s second innings here, Buttler was without a Test hundred in 15 matches and had gone 11 innings without a fifty.

Bell, in equally meagre form, had just four fifties to his name in the 20 innings since his last Test century in 2014.

Batting at three and seven respectively, both Bell and Buttler’s lack of runs are a worry in such pivotal positions in the order. And bearing in mind their long-barren run, England have been remiss in failing to address such an ongoing problem.

Bell managed to notch a much-needed fifty in Abu Dhabi before looking utterly out of sorts for 4 in the first innings in Dubai. He followed that up with a valiant 46 on the fourth day, which may well have saved his status in the side for now.

Buttler’s disappointing first innings duck showed a man bereft of confidence, however. A dropped catch early in Pakistan’s second innings even suggesting it was affecting his ‘keeping, which has otherwise been outstanding on this tour.

Both Buttler and Bell are under pressure from the media, but the real scrutiny on their place in the side is coming from within.

James Taylor went into this tour on the back of a maiden ODI century against Australia and scored a fluid 61 as he showcased his skill against spin bowling. Able to fit in at his preferred number three or lower down the middle-order, Taylor’s versatility made the calls for his inclusion even louder.

They fell on deaf ears, however, and Taylor has remained an eager 12th man throughout the first two Tests. Considering his absence and the failure of his competitors, he’s probably had the best Test match out of England’s batsman, without even wielding his willow.

If wholesale changes were to be made, England could open with Hales alongside Cook, bring Taylor in at three and bat Moeen at seven.

It would mean Buttler and Bell miss out and Jonny Bairstow donning the gloves, leaving the side with two spinners, three frontline seamers and the all-round offering of Ben Stokes.

No balance would be lost in terms of the bowling department and England would accommodate an out-and-out opener as well as Moeen’s more comfortable role counter-attacking at the base of England’s middle-order.

Buttler’s position is most definitely under threat, despite reassuring calls from team-mates to the contrary.

It would be hard for England to justify staying with the Lancashire man in Tests and a rest ahead of the freedom of the shorter formats he has excelled in would do him and his team the world of good.

Taylor is likely to be his replacement, Bairstow keeping as a result.

Having given Moeen the nod to open from the off, England are unlikely to change openers with one Test to go, unless Cook’s injury worsens and they are left with an even wider void.

Bell’s reputation and status among his team-mates kept him in favour with selectors, little else explaining the reason for his presence after such a woeful run with the bat.

His knock here in Dubai went some way to justifying that faith and will have surely saved him from the axe.

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