England's series defeat to Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates has thrown up a number of questions which need answering before their four-Test winter tour of South Africa, principally who should partner Alastair Cook at the top of the batting order.
Opening with all-rounder Moeen Ali was a punt and a way of getting two spinners into the side. Unfortunately, it didn’t work and he averaged just 14 in six innings, but even if he’d done well I don’t think he was viewed as England’s long-term opener.
I believe the selectors will dispense with Moeen as an opener. Nottinghamshire’s Alex Hales toured the UAE and would appear next in line but it would be a big ask for him to come in and face the likes of Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander in their own conditions.
For me, Hales is more of a one-day player and is not quite ready to open the batting for England in a Test match. I would like England to look towards the more traditional opener and my favourite at the moment would be Middlesex’s Nick Compton.
He had another good domestic season and scored more than 1,000 runs in the County Championship. People around the county circuit know how good a player he is and he is someone who is experienced and can deal with high-class bowling.
Compton probably feels a bit mistreated after losing his place in the side prior to the 2013 Ashes series but is still hungry for international cricket. He is only 32 and could realistically play Test cricket for another five years.
Hampshire’s Michael Carberry would be a further option. He is a steady and consistent performer, although is a bit older at 35 years old but, for me, that’s not an issue -- look at what Chris Rogers achieved for Australia.
Ian Bell is another player under the microscope, having averaged 26 so far in 2015 compared to his career average of 43, although England coach Trevor Bayliss has hinted he will retain his place for the South Africa series.
My view is that Bell is still one of the best players in the country and has a lot to offer. He has had a quiet time lately – no Test century in 23 innings – but for such a young side, it is vital to have senior players such as Bell in the dressing room.
Cook went through a quiet time but he has come good, scored a double hundred against Pakistan, and has now got some real confidence behind him. One big score is all it takes. But for his own sanity, Bell needs that sooner rather than later.
England’s spinners – Moeen, Adil Rashid and latterly Samit Patel – have also been criticised. The slow bowlers took 20 wickets against Pakistan across the three Tests at 59 runs apiece, with a combined economy rate of 4.06 per over – the worst by any English spin attack in Asia.
Whatever the pitches are like in South Africa, England will still need a main spinner and for me that would be Moeen, although Yorkshire’s Rashid has shown glimpses of what he can do and should certainly not be forgotten about.
Both still bowl too many bad balls but Moeen, with his batting, gets the nod over Rashid for me. However, if Moeen doesn’t produce in South Africa, I believe that should be the time to bring back Rashid.