Sri Lanka A vs England: England spring early surprise by moving Moeen Ali to opener

One-day warm-up takes place on Friday

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With a mere three months until the World Cup, England are still casting around frantically trying to deduce their preferred team. It is almost selection by numbers, or hoping that if they throw all the selected names in the air they might come down in some sort of order capable of winning in one-day cricket.

They sprang their latest surprise by announcing that Moeen Ali would be elevated to open the innings on Friday with Alastair Cook in the first of two practice matches before the one-day series against Sri Lanka. Moeen had proclaimed last week that he would like a bash, given his success there with Worcestershire, but the received wisdom was that England would retain the Nottinghamshire biffer, Alex Hales.

The change means that Cook will be given his fifth partner since the last World Cup in 2011, following Craig Kieswetter, Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell and latterly Hales. It had been assumed that Hales, who can be electrifying at any stage of a limited-overs innings, would have the job at least until this year’s tournament.

Although he was not entirely convincing against India late last summer, with a top score of 42, the reasons for jettisoning Hales were less so. The coach, Peter Moores, explained that England needed to try to squeeze another bowler into their top six, presumably implying that the opener’s berth was the only way that could be done.

“We’ll have a look at that and it gives us something to work with,” said Moores. “Alex hasn’t done anything wrong and is a fantastic player playing really well at the moment, but it is for us to look at options and see where we are. We are using the warm-ups to get ready for the ODIs, but we want to make sure we get something from it.”

At the official launch of the one-day series last night, Cook implied that the selectors could easily change their minds again. “That’s nowhere near our final decision, it’s for this one game here,” he said. “We wanted to get another bowler into our top six.”

This would be all well and good if the World Cup was three years rather than three months away. England have traditionally reserved their direst one-day cricket for the tournament, usually because they do not have a clue what they should be doing. Since they still do not know what their best XI might be, that seems likely to apply in the 11th tournament, to be held in Australasia in the new year.


“In an ideal world, as I think I said when we left London, the team would be settled and we would have been together for 18 months playing some really good cricket,” said Cook. “That is not the case. To me it doesn’t matter who’s opening because all three are good players. Whoever is at the top of the innings we will want to score their runs quickly.”

Many observers will claim that Cook is clogging the works and that if England want Moeen to open, he should be doing so with Hales. But that is a wasted argument because the decision, right or wrong, for better or worse (and no prizes for guessing what the majority of pundits, both expert and online, are saying) has been taken. Cook will have to score plenty of runs quickly, in every sense, to forestall the debate.

Almost as contentious is that fact that Bell will bat at three. If Bell is in the squad, it is pretty obvious he has to play but he must stamp his authority now. England have still not made it wholly clear why they broke up the first-wicket partnership between Cook and Bell which lasted for three years, except that Hales was making an unanswerable case.

England must now hope that Moeen, like Hales, can transfer some of his form for his county to the international arena. He did not play for Worcestershire in one-day cricket last year but as an opener is scoring for them at a run a ball. England like him too for his bowling and it is clear they think much of him after only five one-day internationals.

The feeling will not be easily allayed, however, that if they do not play Hales when the series starts against Sri Lanka next week they are depriving him of significant one-day international experience. If he looked a little exposed against India last summer, he will not be in any position to learn how to respond by carrying drinks.

England know what they are trying to do, but the method of doing it is open to serious debate. They will not make the mistake of trying to chase India’s heavy scoring in their recent home series against Sri Lanka when the visitors were beaten 5-0.

“Scores in India are always higher and you’ve got to accept that,” Moores said. “We’re going to play a tournament in Australia and if you ask the stats man what a good score is, some places it would be 300 and at others it wouldn’t be. We’re playing matches in New Zealand where 300 isn’t a normal score. We’re trying to get a batting unit that scores above par on a given surface. If par is 270, and you get 290 then you’re playing well.”

But poor old England are nowhere near to having arrived at that happy place.