Following the feast of the Ashes summer comes the famine of that short break before anything interesting happens again, a gap exacerbated by Australia’s refusal to travel to Bangladesh due to a lack of beef pies in the host nation. In the absence of any proper cricket, we’ve had to laugh at the Cricket Australia XI getting hilariously thrashed in their opening two Matador Cup games (before even more hilariously beating Tasmania) and the utter farce of England’s 15-a-side warm up games in the UAE, in which they managed to get bowled out at least twice in the same innings.
But now, finally, real cricket is back, in the form of the first Test against Pakistan starting on Tuesday. And it’s to discuss that Test that we assembled the few 51allout writers that we could find at very short notice, luring them into the office at the weekend with the promise of free gin. [Just to be 100% clear: there will be no free gin – Editor Steve]
And so the question here for the ginless 51allout ensemble is two-fold: what will England do with their team selection in the UAE and what should they do?
English Matt: I like the sound of having 15 players, for a start. Perhaps then England can reach 200 a few times.
Nichael Bluth: Let’s not get carried away now.
EM: Despite winning the Ashes, there are plenty of uncertainties. Starting at the top, I don’t really want to see Moeen Ali shunted back up the order to open. He’s disadvantaged by being a good-egg who gets on with things without complaint, rather than the kind of big-headed nob who insists on playing in one position only.
NB: I think Moeen keeps quiet because he’s not really good enough to cause a fuss. If he was averaging 45 with the bat, he’d be able to demand being put into a more appropriate position. As it is, his most appropriate position as a batsman is probably carrying the drinks.
Dan: Given that he’s never, not once, opened the batting in domestic four day cricket, and there’s no chance of us asking him to do it on a tour which starts in two months, it’s a strange state of affairs. There are easier ways to balance your side rather than asking the bloke who’s been batting at eight to go and open for a bit.
Aussie Matt: Having watched a tour of the UAE go tits up in spectacular style in the recent past, what England should do seems pretty straight forward: pick a team capable of batting for long periods of time, and one that can retain discipline in the field for equally long periods of time. And anyone who can play legspin halfway competently immediately shoots to the top of the ladder, as Yasir Shah is easily the best Test spinner going around at the moment, and I’m bloody happy Australia won’t have to face him again for some time yet. Hooray for the Big Three dominating cricket schedules!
Novelty options, like Mr Glenn Maxwell, don’t really fit that equation very well, and I don’t think England can afford to select anyone who doesn’t fit into that criteria perfectly. So seemingly no room for chubby all-rounders then. Which makes me sad.
EM: Is it predictable that England will select far too many seamers? And can we all agree that Fat Sam shouldn’t play?
NB: The whole ‘picking a seam-heavy attack for spinning conditions’ thing is one of my favourite England foibles of the past few years. Seeing B&Q Tim chugging to the crease in the first Test – but only ever the first Test – in the UAE, Bangladesh or India never ceases to amuse. Although ‘amuse’ probably isn’t the word, given that England inevitably get a spanking.
And Fat Sam should never play. Under any circumstances ever. His selection is an appalling backwards step, given that he absolutely stunk the County Championship out this year with the bat and his bowling is just bobbins.
Dan: Fat Sam is surely here to cover for injuries only; he isn’t as good a bowler as Root, let alone being a genuine option in his own right.
EM:The other position under scrutiny is Buttler’s. He shouldn’t play, but inevitably he’ll play two Tests before being replaced by Bairstow for a solitary game.
NB: Yeah, Buttler’s lack of form is becoming a real problem. No-one doubts his ability, but there’s only so long you can go along without scoring any runs. Given that England will probably be 40/5 when he comes to the crease, there’s not exactly much room to carry passengers.
EM: I think they’ll line-up as Cook*, Ali, Bell, Root, Taylor, Stokes, Buttler+, Rashid, Broad, Anderson and Finn, but I’d rather Hales opened and Ali batted at No. 8 whilst one of the seamers (probably Finn) missed out.
NB: I agree that that’s the team they’ll go with (although they might go for Wood over Finn) but I’d leave Stokes out. England probably don’t need seven bowling options – including four seamers – when you really think about it. I’d rather have an extra ‘proper’ batsman in there. Although not if that extra batsman is Fat Sam or Jonny Bairstow. So by a process of deduction that leaves Alex Hales to open and Moeen Ali moving back down the order to number six.
Dan: The selectors should ask themselves who is more likely to have an impact on the series: Alex Hales/James Taylor or Mark Wood/Steve Finn. Given that Broad and Anderson performed well over here last time and Stokes should be able to get through plenty of overs, we shouldn’t need that third specialist seamer. But then we did pick dear old Tremmers the last time we played here, so who knows?
And with that final rhetorical question, the requisite 1,000 word limit was reached, which meant Editor Steve could unlock the fire doors and release the 51allout writers into the night, albeit with not a single drop of free gin between them. Being the evil supervillain type, Steve had – of course – given them just enough time to scrabble through the local bins in pursuit of that wonderful juniper aroma before the actual Test started and everyone had to be back in the office and paying attention.