Moeen had requested for an indefinite break from Test cricket after a draining summer which ended with him being dropped from the Test side and given only a white-ball central contract.
But the England management remains acutely aware of Moeen’s potential value to the team as a spin-bowling allrounder and Root confirmed they were “very open” to his return. As a result, a conversation between the team management and Moeen will take place in the next couple of weeks to assess his readiness to return.
“I see Moeen as someone who can offer a huge amount to this team,” Root said ahead of England’s first Test of their New Zealand tour. “He made a decision he wanted a bit of a break from Test cricket and sometimes you do need that. You need to freshen your mind up to keep that hunger and desire.
“We’ll have that conversation with him again, probably in the next couple of weeks. If he is in that [good] place he always adds value to our team. When he’s on form and playing well he offers so much and adds a different dimension to our playing group. He’s got to be comfortable and ready to come back to Test cricket but we’re very open to that, for sure.”
Moeen’s return would probably be bad news for Jack Leach. But if, as expected, James Anderson returns to the Test team in South Africa, England may be concerned by the length of a tail which could start at No. 8 and consist of Jofra Archer, Stuart Broad, Anderson and Leach.
In the end, it may well depend on how Leach fares in New Zealand. He struggled for penetration in the warm-up matches – he has taken one wicket in 56 overs so far on the tour – but provided good control in conceding just 2.15 runs per over in the first innings and 2.46 in the second of the match against New Zealand A. He also enjoyed a more than respectable Ashes series, claiming 12 wickets at a cost of 25.83 apiece.
He has proved a determined lower-order batsman, too. As well as scoring 92 against Ireland at Lord’s, he provided fine support to Ben Stokes as England put on 76 for the final wicket to win the dramatic Test at Headingley.
The issue with Moeen is the difference, at times, between his potential and his performance. At his best, Moeen, with five Test centuries, is a fine batsman. But in his final months in the side, he was unrecognisable from the player he had been. He has not scored a Test century in 43 innings since 2016 and, since the start of the Sri Lanka tour almost exactly a year ago, has averaged 11.20 in eight Tests. In that time he was dismissed for a duck five times and passed 13 only three times.
At the time he was dropped, however, he was the top Test wicket-taker in the world over the previous 12-months having finished both the Sri Lanka and the West Indies tours as England’s leading wicket-taker, though in Sri Lanka Leach took the same number. And while there are times he can be expensive, he has now claimed 181 Test wickets at a better strike rate (60.60) than that achieved by those perceived as England’s former great spinners such as Derek Underwood (73.60), Jim Laker (62.30), Hedley Verity (77.50) or Fred Titmus (98.80). Graeme Swann, by comparison, had a strike rate of 60.10.
In recent weeks, Moeen has been playing T20 and T10 cricket in South Africa and the UAE. But it will be his mental state the England management want to assess and, if they are convinced he is refreshed and energised for a return, it may well prove hard to leave him out of the Test squad. With a T20 World Cup in less than a year, Moeen is almost certain to return to the England squads for the limited-overs section of the tour.
Root also suggested Mark Wood and Anderson should be in contention for selection for South Africa. Both were ruled out of the New Zealand series due to injuries – they both missed almost the entire Ashes series, too – but they have stepped up their rehabilitation in recent days and are currently bowling outdoors in Spain. Both bowlers are also part of a training squad heading to Potchefstroom at the start of December.
“They very much have a chance to push for selection,” Root said. “They are working very hard and getting overs in their legs outside. They’re currently in Spain and they’ll go out to Potch to further that fitness. Hopefully, by the end of this tour when it comes round to selection, we’ll have a lot more information on whether they are fit and available for selection.
“In the last couple of years Jimmy has probably been at his peak. He’s still finding ways to exploit conditions, take wickets and lead the attack. His desire and hunger and the way he’s going about his rehab just shows how desperate he is to keep playing.”
Sourav Ganguly to Virat Kohli – ‘I expect you to win in Australia’
BCCI president Sourav Ganguly expects Virat Kohli‘s side to register their second successive Test series win in Australia when they tour down under later this year. Ganguly stated the upcoming tour would be tougher than the previous outing of 2018-19 but said India also had the batting and bowling to do well there.
“I have said that to Virat also,” Ganguly told India Today in an interview. “I said, ‘because you’re Virat Kohli, your standards are high. When you walk to play, when you walk with your team, I, watching on TV, don’t expect you to just play well against Australia. I expect you to win. So for me, that is what it is. Because you have set the standards. It’s not anybody else. So you have to live up to the standards.'”
On their 2018-19 tour, India had recorded their first Test series win in Australia, winning the four-match series 2-1. Australia were then without two of their batting mainstays Steven Smith and David Warner, who were serving a one-year ban each due to their role in the ball-tampering incident in the Cape Town Test against South Africa in 2018. Ganguly acknowledged this “milestone series” would not be as easy this time.
“It’s going to be a tough series,” he said. “It’s not going to be what it was in 2018 when they went. It’s going to be a strong Australia but our team is as good. We have the batting, we have the bowling.
“Absolutely [hopeful of the team]. We just got to bat better. You know the best teams overseas, they bat well. When we were so successful away from home, in England, in Australia and in Pakistan, we were getting 400, 500 and 600 in Test matches.
India’s last international assignment was in March – a three-match ODI series against South Africa, which was called off in the wake of Covid-19 after a washout in the first game. While some of the players, including Cheteshwar Pujara and Mohammed Shami, have resumed training, one of India’s major concerns will be to ensure an injury-free return of their players, especially the fast bowlers.
“I have been in touch with him (Kohli), telling him, ‘you have got to stay fit.’ You haven’t played cricket for six months, you don’t want your fast bowlers to come back and get injured. They have been training, [but] training and playing cricket is different. You have got to make sure your best bowlers are ready for the tour and fit. Whether it’s Shami, whether it’s [Jasprit] Bumrah, whether it’s Ishant [Sharma], whether it’s [Hardik] Pandya, they have to be at the top of their match fitness when they land in Australia.”
Ganguly further said the BCCI had thought about a roadmap to start training camps in India, but with the rising Covid-19 cases, especially in the big cities, it was “too risky” to do anything soon.
“We have thought about the roadmap. We have the SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) in place. The BCCI and the NCA have worked extensively in getting the proper SOPs. That have been circulated to state associations. At the moment, there is no chance of camp because of what is happening, what the situation is in the country. It’s too risky. In Bombay, Calcutta, Delhi, Chennai, Hyderabad, it’s just risky. So we will have to wait.
“If at all the IPL happens in October – the Asia Cup has been cancelled – so maybe August-September would be the time where we can pull the players out and get them together for 15 days. We have got things in place but at the same time, the safety of the players is very important because they are long-term assets for India. One series, one IPL is not more important than player safety. But we want it to happen provided everything is in order.”
India’s tour to Australia is scheduled to kick-off in October with three T20Is, followed by four Tests and three ODIs.
“We just hope the number of quarantine days get reduced a bit because you don’t want the players to go all the way that far and sit in hotel rooms for two weeks,” Ganguly said. “It’s very depressing and disappointing. So we are looking at that and December is still a long way.”
Recent Match Report – England vs West Indies 1st Test 2020
England 204 and 284 for 8 (Sibley 50, Crawley 76, Gabriel 3-62) lead West Indies 318 by 170 runs
West Indies’ seamers took five wickets in the final 75 minutes of the fourth day to leave them on top in an enthralling Test match at the Ageas Bowl.
England looked to have put themselves into the box seat as Dom Sibley and Zak Crawley made half-centuries, batting time on a pitch with variable bounce, as thoughts turned to what sort of lead they might want before declaring on the final day.
But after Jason Holder drew an edge to gully from Ben Stokes, the wickets tumbled: Alzarri Joseph accounted for Crawley and Jos Buttler in the day’s quickest spell before Shannon Gabriel ripped through Dom Bess and Ollie Pope to leave West Indies dreaming of a famous win.
Rory Burns and Sibley had survived a brutal 10-over examination on the third evening but found scoring easier in the morning session, moving through the gears as they added 47 in the first hour of the day. But Holder reacted, bowling dry in tandem with offspinner Roston Chase, and the scoring pressure eventually told as Burns spooned a catch to point off Chase’s first half-tracker of the day.
Sibley in particular dropped anchor. He was occasionally bogged down against Chase, and seemed to be caught in two minds when Holder asked Joseph to target his ribcage, a tactic which proved to be his undoing in his final three innings in South Africa and even in the intra-squad warm-up match. He was handed a life the ball after reaching fifty, dragging a back-of-a-length delivery from Gabriel on to his stumps only for the third umpire to decide that he overstepped by a fine margin. But Gabriel had his man two balls later, firing a length ball down the leg side from wide on the crease which Sibley only managed to tickle through to Shane Dowrich.
Joe Denly, backed at No. 3 ahead of Crawley, played the sort of innings that has become his trademark, for better or worse. He struggled early on, playing and missing repeatedly and surviving a shout for a catch off Holder which was shown on review to have looped up to second slip via his body. He grew in fluency as his innings wore on, but his dismissal – chipping an innocuous delivery from Chase to straight midwicket – was nothing if not soft.
Denly’s failings were exposed further by Crawley’s success. Chris Silverwood had hinted in the build-up to this Test that Denly was likely to be included for the second Test when Joe Root returns, telling the BBC: “Joe is in possession at the moment, and I do believe in giving people one too many chances rather than one not enough.”
But it seems implausible that Crawley will lose his place after an innings that oozed class, with a straight drive down the ground off Roach early in his innings one of the shots of the day. While England’s top three relied on flicks, pulls and dabs behind square, Crawley scored the vast majority of his runs in front of the wicket, driving elegantly and using his long levers to hit over the top off Chase.
West Indies looked short of ideas against him and Stokes during their partnership of 98, with Stokes in particular taking a disdainful approach to Gabriel’s new-ball spell as England looked to make the game secure. But again Holder’s emphasis on discipline reaped rewards, as Stokes was caught trying to force a shot, falling to his opposite number for the second time in the match, before Crawley offered a return catch to Joseph six balls later.
The game turned on its head in a hurry. Joseph, who had been used sparingly earlier in the day rather than being rammed into the ground, bowled with good pace, and burst through Buttler’s loose shot to leave England six wickets down.
While Buttler’s failure to make a telling score will undoubtedly put him under scrutiny – his average since the start of last summer’s Ashes is now just 21.38 – Joseph’s spell was incisive, as he found movement with the ball still relatively new. Tellingly, his celebrations were muted even after his breakthroughs, as if to emphasise that there was still a job to be done.
The benefits of Holder’s captaincy were evident again when Gabriel was unleashed in the final half-hour. He castled Bess, targeting the stumps from wide on the crease, before Pope dragged on with England staring down the barrel, only 165 ahead with two wickets in hand. Mark Wood and Jofra Archer snuck England through to the close with a lead of 170, and will be tasked with spending time in the middle before making more of an impact with the ball than they managed in the first innings.
Simmons ‘extremely pleased’ as West Indies quicks seize moment
West Indies head coach Phil Simmons hailed his bowling attack’s persistence and patience after five late wickets put his team into the driving seat against England.
When Zak Crawley and Ben Stokes combined for a fluent partnership of 98, the bulk of which were made after the tea interval, it had looked as though the game was drifting away from West Indies, who had managed only three wickets in the day. But after Jason Holder removed Stokes for the second time in the match, Alzarri Joseph and Shannon Gabriel took two wickets apiece in quick spells which seemed to vindicate Holder’s emphasis on discipline and patience throughout the match.
“It showed the persistence of the bowlers,” Simmons said. “We’d been fighting all day and Stokes and Zak started to take the bowling apart. But the persistence of Jason [was rewarded] and then Alzarri’s spell was a huge spell too.
“I’m extremely pleased with the way the bowlers bowled today – both when two batters [Rory Burns and Dom Sibley] batted before lunch and more so when Stokes and Crawley were trying to take it away from us.
“The patience we exhibited has been something that we’ve been asking for for a while, and today it showed up. We bore the fruit of that in the evening session. You can’t really say much more – they stuck to their tasks.”
In particular, the flurry of wickets before the close seemed to reward Holder’s sparing use of his two strike bowlers earlier in the day.
While it would have been tempting to throw Gabriel and Joseph the ball and ask them to target England’s top three with bouncers, Holder instead split the bulk of the workload between the relentless Kemar Roach, himself, and offspinner Roston Chase, choking England’s scoring on a slow pitch.
That meant that Joseph had bowled only 11 of the day’s 80 overs when he returned to bowl with the second new ball still offering movement, and the rewards were immediate: his was the fastest spell of the innings, and accounted for both Crawley – caught and bowled in his follow-through – and Buttler, who was bowled through the gate.
Gabriel, too, was fresh upon his return after only 12 overs in the day, and twice beat Dom Bess in the off-stump channel in the first over of his spell before knocking out his off pole in his second. Four balls later, he got one to lift from a length which Ollie Pope only managed to chop on, leaving England eight wickets down with a slender lead of 165.
Simmons said that there had not been a specific plan to leave some energy in the tank moving into the final hour, but hailed Holder’s management of his bowlers throughout the match so far.
“It’s just how the captain sees it when he’s out there,” Simmons said. “That’s just the way he rotated his bowlers today, and it worked well for us in the end.
“When [Alzarri] is bowling like he bowled this evening here, he’s always going to be a threat to any batting line-up we play against. That’s the thought we are trying to get in his head: that this is the type of spell we want from him and need from him.
“Part of Test cricket is about patience, especially when you have wickets like this to play on, and it’s something that we’ve been working on hard – not getting bored at doing the simple things and the basic things for a while to put people under pressure. I’m glad to see it’s working, and guys are thinking about what we’ve been working on.”
Simmons gave further praise to Gabriel, who has now taken seven wickets in his first first-class appearance since last September following a long ankle lay-off.
“It shows his desire to play for West Indies, coming back from ankle surgery and doing all the hard work he’s done. Even during lockdown in Trinidad, he was finding ways to train to get himself fit for this series. You can only compliment him.
“I’m sure that Jason is happy to have him, Roach is happy to have him as an opening partner, and Alzarri is coming up with them. It’s great to see the combination and how they’re working together. That’s the important thing, how they bowl together and it’s showing and it’s improving.”
As for the fourth innings, Simmons suggested that the benefit of late wickets was that it meant there would be little in the way of scoring pressure on his batsmen.
“We’ve got to get the two wickets, and whatever is put in front of us, we have a day to bat. The confidence from the way we batted and the attitude towards batting in the first innings is going to be a huge plus for us when we bat in the second innings.
“Whether we’re chasing 170 or 190, it’s going to be the same attitude that we need to chase it. I have confidence in that.”
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