England had just lost the Ashes 5-0, but they did have something to celebrate.
Over the combined 10 Test series and one dayers, they had trialled Finn, Rankin, Tremlett, Jordan, Dernbach and Bresnan. None worked. In fact, they were all massive failures.
However, Ben Stokes was a shining beacon of orange goodness. A century and a 6 wicket haul after 4 Tests had the old timers at the MCC buzzing.
Since then, Stokes has been dropped from the team twice. England have tried Woakes, Plunkett and Jordan to no avail. The promise of the next Ian Botham is no more. It has proved that the depth of England’s pace attack is wafer thin. Broad, Anderson…..daylight……..mediocrity.
Moeen Ali is the new flavour of the month.
He came into the side as a County number 3 who was picked to play number 6. Most didn’t realise he was also a part time spinner of sorts.
However, in 120 first class matches, he had 5 X 5fers. This is below what you expect from a front line turner, but handy in the right circumstances. For context, Cameron White has a scarily similar first class bowling record.
Then came his first 5 Test appearances. A century and a 6 wicket haul later and the old timers at the MCC are buzzing.
The risk for England is that they are trying to convince themselves that Moeen is their best bet in the spinning role. This is a dangerous game.
Other spinners tried recently at Test level include Simon Kerrigan and Scott Borthwick. In the case of the latter, England where so desperate for a Graeme Swann replacement that he was pulled from a grade level team in Sydney to represent England in the SCG Test.
England are desperate to replace Swann. The reasons are clear. He was the guy who won them the Ashes in England. He was a go to man. He took wickets. He was dependable.
Moeen may become that guy. But do you use the Test stage as a mechanism to allow a guy to learn his craft as a front liner?
The risk is that the Moeen bowling experiment brings just average outcomes of over the longer term.
If this proves to be true, then what?
You have stifled the development of the others in line by not playing them. You potentially over work Moeen at the expense of his batting. After all, he was primarily selected to hit the ball. Bowling was a nice little bonus.
By assuming that Moeen is their first option, England risk putting the rest of their spin bowling progress back 5 years or even more.
Moeen could become a decent number 6 for England who provides back up spin. But if England truly want to rise back to the top of the Test table, they need to blood a proper full time spinner. They need competition for the spinners job.
Moeen may in fact step up and fill the role well. However, history suggests that front line spinners are just that. Rarely do number 3 batsmen become top tweakers.