If I were to ask you who is the favourite to win the 2019 Cricket World Cup, you could say England, India or whoever stirs your being.
In an Ashes series of great triumph and relief, one disappointment from the England camp was Adam Lyth’s failures at the top of the order.
Across the five matches he managed just 115 runs at a touch over 12. You would have to seriously doubt whether the gritty left-hander will play Test cricket again.
As a result, he has been left out of the English squad to take on Pakistan in the upcoming series beginning in just under a month. Without drafting in a specialist opener, it is expected that Moeen Ali will partner Alastair Cook at the start of England’s innings.
Ali has opened for his national side in limited overs cricket, and is a free, clean hitter with a great eye and natural stroke-making ability. Batting at number eight more recently, his talent was somewhat wasted.
This change to the England setup highlights just how difficult it has been for them to nail down a long-term opening partner to Cook after the retirement of now-cricket director Andrew Strauss in 2012.
Since then England have tried all of Nick Compton, Joe Root, Michael Carberry, Sam Robson, Jonathan Trott and Lyth opening the innings. Ali will hence become the seventh batsman tried in this position in seven years.
It was never going to be straightforward to find a long-term replacement for Strauss immediately. Looking elsewhere, the Sri Lankans may find themselves in a similar position for the next few years trying to replace the quality and class of Tillakaratne Dilshan, Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene, and Australia to a lesser extent with Chris Rogers and Michael Clarke. Although some of the replacements have either Test match experience or a solid base in domestic cricket to build from.
Is Ali’s best position opener? It does seem that way perhaps in the shorter forms, yet Ali showed a great patience and watchful approach when facing the second new ball batting down the order.
His role at number eight worked well for team balance and structure, but you could argue his batting was left somewhat unfulfilled and short-changed; your side is batting seriously deep if Ali can slot it at number eight.
His promotion to the top also frees up the chance for a second spin bowler to face the Pakistanis, most likely to be uncapped leg-spinner Adil Rashid who has been very close to Test selection for some time now.
The reality too being that there aren’t necessarily a row of top-order players in waiting with a mountain of county runs behind them. England may decide down the track they wish to partner Cook with the whirlwind Alex Hales, who may pair well with his captain similar to David Warner and Chris Rogers. Tried batsman Compton has had a very solid county season, as have middle order batsmen James Hildreth and James Taylor.
It’s an interesting time for this English side, and it does show how difficult it has been to lock down a long-term opener. I still think that the one for the future is Sam Robson, who can regain his spot through maturing and scoring at domestic level.
For now, it will be intriguing to see if Ali can take advantage of his chance as an opener against the Pakistanis.