Five problems England must tackle before they face Pakistan

 

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1. The other opener

If Adam Lyth’s days are indeed numbered, England have to confront their never-ending search for a partner for Alastair Cook in two ways.

First, they have to treat the series against Pakistan in the UAE as a singular exercise. That may persuade them to use Moeen Ali as an opener, even though he has never opened before in first-class cricket.

Secondly, they have to think of the future beyond that on very different pitches. Alex Hales’ candidacy is gaining some credence, but he may be badly exposed in the desert. Still, nothing ventured...

2. The second spinner

Adil Rashid is tailor-made for the role after being an understudy all summer. For the UAE, England could move Moeen to No 5, find another opener and put Rashid in as an exciting No 8. The trouble is, both Moeen and Rashid bowl lots of bad balls and would not guarantee control on UAE pitches where it is virtually a prerequisite. Maybe their seamers would have to play that role, hoping for wicket-taking balls from the slow men.

In a way, Pakistan, with three spinners, operate this policy. The superb leg-spinner Yasir Shah sometimes leaks runs but he has taken 61 wickets in 10 matches.

3. The middle order

England have to be wary of wholesale change. It was gratifying to see the support for Ian Bell after his hesitant, though non-committal comments after the Oval Test that he would take stock.

Bell has had a rough time but he has vast experience and class, which could be vital this winter. He knows he owes England some runs.

If the possibility of Moeen moving to No 5 gains momentum, there then might be an order of Cook, Hales, Bell, Joe Root, Moeen, Ben Stokes, which mixes styles and experience and also looks ahead.

Were Mooen to open, then Gary Ballance might be a better fit lower down the order.

4. The wicketkeeper

Jos Buttler is under no immediate threat but he is coming to terms with the moods and patterns of Test cricket. He has to find a way of putting a higher price on his wicket while staying true to his natural instincts.

Jonny Bairstow’s credentials should not be overlooked. Although his hard-handed approach is unlikely to be effective against Pakistan and the feeling is that he has not done enough to survive in the middle order, there is an international cricketer in there trying to get out and he will go on tour as reserve keeper.

5. The state of the game

This potentially prodigious England team, led by Cook, have pronounced that they want to play a different, refreshing form of Test cricket. It led to rapid finishes in the Ashes series.

Heartening though this approach is, it has also been accompanied by a tendency to throw out the baby with the bath water. Sometimes, Test cricket, with bat or ball, demands retrenchment, whether bowling dry or defending a while with the bat to attack later.

It is vital that England understand this in the UAE, where they have to be prepared to bat (or bowl) 150 overs in the first innings rather than, say, the 18.3 that Australia lasted in Nottingham. Test cricket has to stay Test cricket, although when New Zealand’s buccaneers won in Sharjah last year their 690 in their first innings came at almost five an over.

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