First Test selection - Option 1 or 2? Simple, option 3!
Leading into the series in Pakistan the main topic of conversation has been what will our team be for the First Test and how can we accommodate two spinners, on what will inevitably be turning pitches. The rise of Ben Stokes has made several scenarios possible. The two obvious ones are to push Moeen Ali up to open the batting with Cook or leave out a quick bowler and open with Hales. Both are solid options and I'm sure central to the discussions between Cook, Bayliss and Farbrace. But, using my experience of captaining Windsor CC's 4th XI, several years ago (we got relegated), I'll give you my thoughts, if I was captain, on why I'd go for a third option!
Let's first address the opener issue. In my mind, Alex Hales is an opening batsman, he's been selected in the squad as one of two opening batsmen, so that should be the end of the opener debate. Everyone believes the role is his in South Africa, so he needs to open here. One of the biggest criticisms of the West Indies tour was the decision not to play Adam Lyth and then have him thrown in at the deep end against arguably two of the best bowling attacks in world cricket. Is it really wise to throw Hales into a similar situation against Steyn and Morkel, when we can give him three Tests against Pakistan? He's been selected in the squad as one of two opening batsmen so play him!
With that decided, lets now address the issue of dropping a quick bowler. To win Test matches we have to take 20 wickets. That is not easy in the sub-continent so Cook as a captain needs as many options as possible. Broad and Anderson are set in stone, they are the leaders of our pack and both bowled superbly on that last tour here in 2012. But Anderson isn't getting any younger and Broad's body is prone to niggles, and let's not underestimate how hot it'll be out there. Mark Wood's bowling style is made for sub-continental conditions, he's a skiddy bowler who can bowl at 90mph with reverse swing - he's a young Darren Gough. Pakistan batsmen will be concerned about him. He's our secret weapon and has to play. We have to play our match winners.
Another potential match winner is Adil Rashid. A leg spinner who bats! A dream. Too often in the past we've tried to contain through strangling the batsmen - it's been a successful tactic, but with our new 'brand' of cricket we finally have a spinner, who yes, will go for runs, but will attack and will take wickets and has the potential to run through a team. He's in my XI and will be presented with his England cap on the morning of the First Team - probably from Graeme Swann.
Now Moeen Ali - his spin twin. We all love Mooen don't we?! An underestimated player who is as important to this team as Ben Stokes. Moeen you're in the team but you're not opening the batting. Your focus in the field needs to be taking wickets not shifting focus after 8 wickets down to how you will face the first ball. Talking of Stokes, he's quickly becoming our talisman and his aggression, never say die attitude and will to win is what will be desperately needed to win in these searing conditions. His spirit will rub off on others.
Anderson, Broad, Wood, Stokes, Rashid, Ali - what an exciting bowling line up to take to the field and which has the capability to get 20 wickets. It also provides Cook with so many options and then there is Joe 'I will get you a wicket in my first over' Root to throw in as well! If Carlsberg did bowling line ups... This group would definitely have kept Windsorr CC 4th XI up that year. I'm convinced.
So how do we fit all of this in if Hales is to open the batting? In my mind it's simple. People talk about Stokes as our all rounder, we are fortunate to have two genuine all rounders. Moeen Ali should be held in the same high regard as Stokes. He may not be the best spinner in the world but Stokes isn't the best quick bowler. What we have are two genuine all rounders who have each scored Test centuries and taken five wicket hauls. So, for this tour if I was a selector I would push Moeen Ali up to five in place of Jonny Bairstow. Harsh on Bairstow, given his summer for Yorkshire, but in his Ashes Tests he didn't nail down his place. It's a tough place Test cricket.
That would provide an exciting team of: Cook, Hales, Bell, Root, Ali, Stokes, Buttler, Rashid, Broad, Wood, Anderson. That's an XI that excites and I think will bring our best chance of a series victory in the UAE. It has runs and gives the captain options to take twenty wickets.
It's unfortunate for James Taylor as I'd love him to be in the team, but he will put pressure on Bell at three. That said I think Bell's experience will be important, but any more failures, and Taylor comes in.
So there we go that's my thoughts, no doubt Moeen will now score a century opening the batting in the First Test and Bairstow will score a swashbuckling 70 at number five as we're bowled out for 210 in the first innings of the First Test...
What would your XI be for the first Test? Tweet us @addisarmy