Trevor Bayliss, the England coach, was confident Moeen Ali would leave “nothing to chance” in his quest to become truly “world-class” after a record-breaking display with both bat and ball in a 3-1 series win over South Africa.
Ali completed a brilliant campaign by taking two wickets in two balls as England won the fourth Test at Old Trafford by 177 runs shortly after tea on Monday’s (August 7) fourth day. That gave Ali an innings return of 5 for 69 on a day when he also finished off a valuable knock of 75 not out.
It meant Ali, who ended England’s win in the third Test at The Oval with a hat-trick, had taken 25 wickets in the series and scored 252 runs as well. In the process he became the first player in history to take 25 wickets and score at least 250 runs in a four-Test series.
Ian Botham, whose aggressive on-field personality was in marked contrast to that of the softly-spoken Ali, performed a similar feat twice during triumphant home Ashes campaigns in 1981 and 1985 — but both of those contests were six-Test affairs.
For much of this series, Bayliss — and Ali too — referred to the allrounder as a “second spinner”. It was a ruse that did not fool anyone, although England would not have cared if it helped eased the pressure on Ali. “Maybe the psychology is working,” Bayliss told reporters. “There’s no doubt he’s our No 1 spinner and maybe he will become world-class. He has work to do but, knowing Mo, he won’t leave anything to chance because he’s one of the hardest workers in the nets.”
As for Ali equalling a feat achieved by Botham — and in two fewer Tests — Bayliss said, “Most people are astounded (with that statistic). He does it in a quiet manner, he just gets the job done and is a great team man.”
But Bayliss promised that the 3-1 series win won’t “paper over the cracks” in England’s fragile top order. A first home series success over South Africa in 19 years also gave Joe Root a win in his maiden campaign as England captain. But with just three Tests at home against West Indies before England begin the defence of the Ashes in Australia, major question remarks remain over several frontline batting positions.
England have tried 11 different players as an opening partner for Alastair Cook since former captain Andrew Strauss retired in 2012. Keaton Jennings, the latest in that lengthy list, endured a miserable series against his native South Africa, averaging just 15.87 in eight innings.
Tom Westley made a promising start at No.3 without making a major score, while Dawid Malan’s initial impact at No.5 was minimal.
“It’s always a good thing that you’re winning but we’re not papering over the cracks,” said Bayliss. “We know there are some spots which haven’t been cemented down and we’re still looking for those guys to prove their worth at this leve.”
Asked if England were now any clearer about the composition of their top order than they had been at the start of the South Africa series, Bayliss replied, “To be honest. no. We’ve got a selection meeting later this week but I’m not going to speculate who might or might not be in the team. Obviously there’s a few spots that will be discussed.”
Root, who along with Cook is the only player in the England top five assured of their place, was left to reflect on a first series as skipper which included a huge 340-run defeat in the second Test at Trent Bridge. “It’s been very enjoyable the majority of the time,” he said. “There was a week that wasn’t quite as much fun as the other three, but that is all part and parcel of being a captain. I learnt a lot throughout. It’s the start of something.”