Moeen Ali lost his spot in England’s World Cup side and now his Test place is in danger of going the same way, with Jack Leach being considered for a recall at Lord’s.
It is not England’s style to make wholesale changes after one poor result - Jofra Archer was already poised to replace the injured James Anderson - and Moeen could still save himself with a brilliant second innings performance with the bat. But on current evidence that feels highly unlikely.
He cut a dejected figure by the end of a dominant day for Australia here at Edgbaston. By the time Ben Stokes put his arm around him to congratulate him on dismissing Tim Paine with a beautifully flighted off-break that crashed into middle stump, Moeen sported a look of resignation rather than celebration.
Dropping the spinner is a step that will be taken reluctantly, but England's patience is wearing very thin. Moeen’s batting has been in decline for a year and he admitted before this game he should now be judged as a bowler, rather than a batsman. Using his own criteria, the outlook is gloomy.
Even on turning pitches spinners take wickets through building pressure and Moeen was unable to do that at Edgbaston, despite the helpful surface.
Nathan Lyon bowled 43 overs conceding runs at just 2.5 an over in England’s first innings. Moeen, by contrast, took until his 27th over to bowl a maiden on Sunday, and finished with two for 130 from 29 overs.
The two Joes, Root and Denly, looked more threatening with their part-time spin than Moeen whose body language betrayed a lack of confidence.
Moeen was dropped twice during the World Cup, finally losing his place for the must-win match against India and never regaining his spot. That was a decision based on his batting rather than bowling for he was more reliable with the ball than Adil Rashid. But with his batting form evaporating, he has to keep up the high standards with the ball that made him such an important part of the side last winter.
The numbers argue patience. Moeen has taken more wickets, 48 in 10 Tests at 25.12, over the last year than any other bowler in Test cricket and was leading wicket-taker in the West Indies in March. But how relevant is that now? Not very.
Moeen bowled two ‘moon ball’ beamers on Sunday, deliveries that flew out the top of his hand and were called no balls by the umpires. It was a habit he picked up in 2016 when he was bowling poorly against Pakistan: back then, it was blamed on a change of grip but it was also a confidence issue. His pace was down to 52.5mph, down on pace from the previous days of this Test, as tentativeness crept in.
Australia have done this before to Moeen. He endured a torrid tour to Australia two winters ago, eventually losing his place until the final two Tests of last summer. With Lyon dismissing him again in the first innings at Edgbaston, the old doubts perhaps started creeping in.
Leach is a steady hand. He does not turn it as much as Moeen and will bowl fewer wicket-taking deliveries. It also remains to be seen how he will cope with Australians going after him. But he has in his favour the fact Steve Smith is more human when facing balls that turn away from him, averaging 35.66 to left armers and leg spin. Leach should also give Root more control so he does not have to constantly bring back one of his fast bowlers.
James Anderson’s right calf was scanned again at Edgbaston over the weekend which confirmed he aggravated the same injury he sustained playing for Lancashire last month.
He did not bowl on Sunday and will be out until at least the fourth Test partly because of a lack of fixtures for Lancashire. They have a championship match against Glamorgan starting on Aug 18 but that looks too soon for Anderson. There are two Lancashire second XI matches starting on Aug 20 and 27 and he will have to play in one of those to be considered for the fourth Test at Old Trafford, which starts on Sept 4.
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