Trevor Bayliss had a good chance to assess his whole squad as all were given the opportunity to stake their claim to earn a place in the XI to face Pakistan in the first test in Abu Dhabi. Performances varied with Bayliss left with a big decision on who will accompany Alastair Cook at the crease to open the batting.
Moeen Ali and Alex Hales were selected by Bayliss as possible suitors for the vacant opening spot alongside captain Cook, however both were unable to impress during the two tour matches with Pakistan A. Ali was picked for both games where as Hales only had one innings to make a case for selection. The Nottinghamshire batsman only managed nine, edging to the slips trying to drive Pakistan bowler Mir Hamza. Worcestershire all-rounder Ali had three innings as an agreed format of both teams batting all day regardless of how many wickets fall. A combined total 41 at an average of 13.67 beats his challenger’s nine but by no means justifies either batsmen being granted an opening spot. Avoiding a selection dilemma, Bayliss looks likely to select all-rounder Ali over Hales because of his bowling performance taking the wicket of four opponents over two innings. The right hand left hand combination of Cook and Hales makes for a desirable opening pair however without runs, Bayliss can’t select the Nottinghamshire batsman.
Pre-tour conversation focused on the importance of spin bowlers, and how England batsmen play spin. With three spin options Ali, Adil Rashid and Samit Patel were fighting for a likely two places in the first test match in Abu Dhabi. Patel spoke much in interviews about the lack of expected game time due to the involvement of fellow spinners, 2-31 off of 12 overs at an economy of 2.58 both coaches and captain a strong back up to the reliable Ali and Rashid. Unfortunately for Patel, Yorkshire spinner Rashid batted at eight and 10, scoring 51 not out and two runs against Patel’s eight runs.
On the batting front, James Taylor was keen to make up for lost time having been out of the international test picture for two years along with Patel. Like fellow county team mate Hales, Taylor was given an innings to prove why he should be selected to play in Abu Dhabi on Monday and he did just that. The batsman made 45 before retiring, allowing others a chance to make a name for themselves before coming back in and notching up his half century. Ian Bell joined Taylor, retiring on 53 not out while the Nottinghamshire batsman was finally dismissed for 61. Joe Root made a 50 in the first tour match, not batting in the second while Jos Buttler made 39 after a poor first innings in the opening tour match. Fellow wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow couldn’t score a run being caught for a duck. Both wicketkeepers will be competing both for batting and wicket keeping with Buttler scoring 40 at an average of 20 while Bairstow’s 66 not out gives the batsman an average of 66. Both players are still in with a chance of playing in the first match of the series, this is because in the first tour match, the side fielded was full strength. The second tour match was agreed to allow first team hopefuls the chance to provide competition for a place, both Bairstow and Butler played in the opening tour match.
Pace bowling leaves a headache for selectors as Steven Finn’s four wickets rival Mark Wood’s one wicket in the first tour match. With James Anderson and Stuart Broad more or less dead certs to be England’s opening pair, the third place is now contested as Bayliss has two worthy options, both showing over the tour matches and summer matches that they are capable of taking wickets at vital moments. In the Ashes, both made the side due to Anderson’s injury, but now with all players fit, a tough decision is to be made as to who gets the third seamers spot. Bayliss preferred Wood when the Australian first came into the role with the Durham bowler a more aggressive option as the three lions look to play more attacking cricket. However, Finn came into the side in the latter stages of the series to earn his place but has failed to provide a main stay in the side on the international stage in the last year. Liam Plunkett looks fourth choice but claimed two wickets to give selectors something to think about.
With the test series only three days away, the England selectors have key decisions to make on both the opening spot, likely to go to Ali, as well as the third seamer and wicket keeping place. Wood and Finn hotly contest that final seamer’s place while Buttler and Bairstow gave mixed batting performances over the two tour matches as only one can wear the gloves behind the stumps.
Pakistan await England on the 13th October in Abu Dhabi.
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