Moeen Ali had a torrid time in the recent Ashes series. He averaged 19.88 with the bat and 115 with the ball. He was eventually dropped after the First Test of the following series against New Zealand.
However, a lot can change in five months and it seems that all Moeen needed was to find form again. He followed up a T20 hundred for Worcestershire with an even better performance in the county championship. He scored 219 and took eight wickets in the match (including 6-49 in the second innings).
The England selectors took note and, when they saw that Ben Stokes was struggling with a niggle, they brought Moeen into the side to strengthen their bowling line-up. The all-rounder thanked them with a dream performance as he took nine wickets to spin them to victory. He also chipped in with a crucial 40 in the first innings and deservedly took home the man of the match award.
It remains to be seen whether Moeen can repeat this kind of success in foreign conditions, but he has certainly reminded everyone that he has plenty to offer England when he is on song.
The best decision Ed Smith has made since taking over as Head Selector is the recall of Jos Buttler. The Lancashire batsman scored a match-winning 80 in the Second Test against Pakistan and a superb, patient hundred in a losing cause against India in the Third Test.
He then followed up those performances with a composed and crucial 69 at the Ageas Bowl as England accumulated 271 in their second innings.
The net effect of these innings is simple: England look like a better team and their middle order looks stronger than ever before. If Jonny Bairstow moves back to five, it would read: Bairstow, Stokes, Buttler and then Sam Curran at eight. And that is certainly a line-up for England fans to get excited about and opposing teams to fear.
It is a great shame the previous selectors did not bring Buttler into the side for the 2017/18 Ashes because England looked one batsmen short throughout that series after Stokes was ruled out following his arrest.
Buttler’s recall has also presented England with a decision to make regarding their choice wicketkeeper. Bairstow wants to keep the gloves, but the selectors have indicated a preference to move him up the order and the presence of the Lancashire man gives them the perfect replacement if that is the route they decide to go down in the long-term.
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Buttler is not the only man who has given England a glimpse of the future. Curran has come in and performed better than anyone could ever have hoped in his first summer of Test cricket.
His contributions have been so significant that it is not a stretch to say that England would almost certainly have lost the series to India without him. They were 87-7 before he scored 63 at Edgbaston and 86-6 before he made 78 at the Ageas Bowl.
Perhaps the most exciting part of Curran’s emergence is that he is only 20, so he could have a long and successful career ahead of him.
However, there are other areas England urgently need to look at. Now that Alastair Cook has announced that he will be retiring after the Fifth Test, the selectors need to decide who will replace him.
The outstanding candidate is Surrey opener Rory Burns, who has scored 961 runs at an average of 64.07 this season with three hundreds and four fifties. He is a calm and patient batsman who is best suited to the longest format of the game, so he could fulfil a similar role to Cook.
England must also decide who is going to bat at number three if Root decides he does not want to and they do not continue with Moeen there. Ollie Pope is young enough to make the adjustment if they want him to try and Bairstow could also be asked to move into that position. Otherwise, the selectors will either have to go back to James Vince or find someone new.
England played excellent cricket at times during the series, but there are also plenty of reasons for India to kick themselves for their losses.
They decided not to pick their most disciplined batsman, Cheteshwar Pujara, for the opening test at Edgbaston and ended up losing that match by just 31 runs. If he had played, and India had won, it could have changed the course of the whole series.
The tourists then replaced a seamer (Umesh Yadav) with a spinner (Kuldeep Yadav) for the Second Test at Lord’s when they really needed a four-pronged seam attack. Admittedly, they probably would not have won whoever they had picked because of how poorly they batted.
India finally got their selection right when they recalled fit-again Jasprit Bumrah for the Third Test and earned an emphatic victory by 203 runs.
However, having got back into the series, their selectors then undid their good work by sticking with an apparently unfit Ravichandran Ashwin for the Fourth Test. The off-spinner took just three wickets in 51.5 overs and, when you consider that Moeen picked up nine wickets in 42 overs for England, the difference between the two spinners was arguably the deciding factor in the outcome of the match.
The fifth and final test of the series between England and India begins at 11am at The Oval on Friday 7th September 2018.
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