England need a solution to their Moeen Ali problem
England can't afford any passengers at the WACA - a ground they have not won at since 1978.
By Oliver Yew
Last Updated: 07/12/17 8:58am
Moeen Ali would have been the least of Joe Root’s worries ahead of the Ashes following his stellar summer with bat and ball, writes Oliver Yew.
The all-rounder finished an incredible English summer, which featured a hat-trick to seal victory in the third Test against South Africa at The Oval, with 30 Test wickets at 21.30 and 596 runs in all formats at an average of 75.15.
However, after two poor performances in Brisbane and Adelaide and with fitness concerns surrounding his ability to bowl to his full potential, pundits are starting to question his position in the side as England's sole spinner.
"I think there's going to be a massive issue with Moeen Ali," Mark Butcher told Sky Sports News following England's second Test defeat.
"I don't think he's going to be fit enough to do the job that England need him to do as an off-spinner in order to maintain his place in the side as a bowler. If that's the case, then England have to rip it up and start again."
It is not the first time Ali's role as England's primary spinner has been questioned. According to head coach Trevor Bayliss, he started the Test summer against South Africa in July as England's "No. 2 spinner" behind Liam Dawson. He went onto to make a mockery of those comments with his performances, but in Australia, we haven't seen the same bowler.
Ali was rightly identified as a key player in this series, but he has been well short of his all-round best. The off-spinner has only two wickets to his name at an average of 98 and has been comprehensively outbowled by Australia's Nathan Lyon (11 wickets at 22.72).
His batting also hasn't fired. Pushed up to No 6 in the absence of Ben Stokes, Ali has failed to go past fifty in four innings, scoring just 105 runs in total, and worryingly he has been dismissed on every occasion by the off-spin of Lyon.
In fairness, his preparations for the tour were not ideal. He played only one warm-up match due to a side strain and he has since been hampered by a cut to his finger picked up at the Gabba.
Concerns over his fitness clouded England's preparations ahead of the day-night Test in Adelaide, but he was declared fit to play a full part and failed to take a wicket in conditions that proved extremely helpful to Lyon.
The all-rounders have long been this England side's strength, but with no Stokes, and Ali out of sorts with the ball, England are struggling. So how do England solve their Moeen Ali problem?
England could continue as they are and hope Ali proves he's fully fit to play at a ground that has not been too conducive to spin over the years.
Seam v Spin at the WACA since 1990
|Type||Balls||Runs||Wickets||Average||Runs per over||Strike rate|
Since 1990, 680 wickets have fallen to seam compared to just 142 to spin. In that time, 21 bowlers have taken at least 10 wickets at the ground, of which 19 have been pacemen. The others? Shane Warne (37 wickets at 36.45 in 12 Tests) and Lyon (12 wickets at 50.33 in four Tests), so even man of the moment Lyon has struggled.
England could look to hit Australia with pace at the WACA and hope Ali, who could drop down below Jonny Bairstow in the batting order, can find some form with the ball in order to do a job.
Another option is to bring in leg-spinner Mason Crane for his Test debut to allow Ali to become the "No 2 spinner" and focus on his batting.
A lot of eyebrows were raised when the 20-year-old rookie was named in the tour party and a few more would probably be raised should he be thrust into the action at the WACA, but former England batsmen Butcher thinks the Hampshire spinner has the character to cope at the top level.
Speaking ahead of the Ashes, Butcher said: "A lot of people don't really know too much about him and there are a few who can't understand why he's been picked to go on the tour.
"He's been picked because New South Wales deemed him good enough to play first-class cricket for them last year.
"The thing about Crane that's so impressive is just how mentally tough he is. He's almost Shane Warne-like in his self-belief and his confidence.
"That is something that you absolutely need if you are going to be a successful spin bowler. He's young and he's raw but I do believe he's a star in the making."
Off-spin v Leg-spin v Left-arm spin at the WACA since 1990
If not Crane, then who else? There are reports suggesting England will dip into the Lions pace reserves and call up Mark Wood for the third Test, but could they do the same in the spin bowling department where the outstanding candidate is surely Jack Leach?
The Somerset left-armer was originally ignored as the back-up option on tour despite taking 51 wickets in last summer's Specsavers County Championship to Crane's 16, but with Ali well off the pace and Crane the only other spin bowling option, he could finally get his maiden call-up.
Only one opposition off-spinner has ever taken as many as four wickets in an innings ever at the ground – Geoff Miller with 4-70 for England in 1982.
Whatever the outcome, England have a big decision to make for Perth. With Australia rampant in the first two Tests, England cannot afford any passengers as they head to the WACA - a ground they haven't won at since 1978 - and at the moment, Ali is just that.