Eng v Ind Moeen Ali

Published on August 2nd, 2018 | by Guest Writer

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Moeen Ali and Dawid Malan: The specialist batsman vs all-rounder conundrum

🕓 Reading time: 3 minutes

“And given Ravichandran Ashwin’s success on the first day, England are probably ruing not picking Moeen to bowl alongside Adil Rashid”

Dawid Malan’s career average dipped to 28.16 when Mohammed Shami trapped him in front of the stumps. Worse, his average at home stands at a woeful 20.25 from 12 innings. To put things in proper perspective, the corresponding numbers for Chris Woakes read 27.83 and – an astounding 41.63.

Moeen Ali, part of the initial squad, was not picked for the Edgbaston Test and was subsequently released to play domestic cricket. Moeen averages 32.40 overall and 38.72 on English soil. We will return to these numbers shortly.

Malan currently bats two-down, between Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow, two of England’s finest batsmen in the current side. Moeen averages 51.20 at the same position, across 5 innings (it is). If you think that’s a small sample, add his innings at No. 5.

Combining his numbers at 4 and 5, Moeen’s tally reads 468 runs at 39, all of them away from home. This includes hundreds at Rajkot and Chennai against an Indian attack similar to what England are facing at this point. Mind you, the average has not been buoyed by not outs.

The question is – why was Malan picked ahead of Moeen? One has heard the logic before: Malan is a specialist batsman, while Moeen is essentially an all-rounder.

This is akin to saying “Despite having inferior batting credentials, Malan played ahead of Moeen in the top four because Moeen bowls while Malan does not.”

That is absolutely ridiculous, but that has always been the way with cricket. So obsessed are we with the term ‘specialist batsman’ that we often tend to forget that there may be non-specialists better than these specialists lurking somewhere.

In fact, that is precisely why Jos Buttler is playing for England – despite him being a wicketkeeper and England already having Bairstow in the XI. In fact, both Bairstow and Buttler are regular features for England across all three formats.

There are rarely qualms over two wicketkeepers featuring in the same side. MS Dhoni and Dinesh Karthik both featured in the Indian side when they won a Test series in England the last time, back in 2007. There have been speculations over playing both Karthik and Rishabh Pant in Edgbaston Test.

At Galle in 2011-12 against England, Sri Lanka fielded Kumar Sangakkara, Tillakaratne Dilshan, and Dinesh Chandimal, all of whom have kept wickets in Test cricket. The assigned wicketkeeper for that Test was, however, Prasanna Jayawardene, which made it four Test wicketkeepers.

If you can play a wicketkeeper if he bats better than a ‘specialist’, why not do the same for a bowler who bats better than one? There have been several examples of this.

Consider Don Bradman’s Invincibles of 1948. They had stuck to the Sid Barnes-Arthur Morris-Don Bradman-Lindsay Hassett-Bill Brown quintet for the first two Tests. Then, when Keith Miller picked up an injury he played as a specialist batsman in the third, and Sam Loxton replaced Brown. Loxton, an all-rounder, was definitely not a like-for-like replacement for Brown.

And when Barnes missed the fourth Test they didn’t bother to recall Brown; Neil Harvey played, and was one of four specialist batsmen, along with Morris, Hassett, and Bradman. No, Bradman did not see a point in playing the ‘specialist’ Brown.

What about Plum Warner’s men who regained The Ashes from Australia, in 1903-04? The first Test included six all-rounders – George Hirst, Albert Relf, Bernard Bosanquet, Len Braund, Ted Arnold, and Wilfred Rhodes. Also in the XI was Tom Hayward (481 First-Class wickets at 22.95). Warner did not bother about a ‘specialist’ either. One must remember that the series was played at a time when the wicketkeeper was not expected to be a part of the middle-order.

The idea should always be to play your five best batsmen from the squad – irrespective of whether they are ‘specialists’. If anything, being a non-specialist would simply provide the side with an added option.

And given Ravichandran Ashwin’s success on the first day, England are probably ruing not picking Moeen to bowl alongside Adil Rashid.

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