The trust and persistence placed in Moeen Ali is how England should approach their top-order conundrum.
After a decade of success, English cricket demands instantaneous results, but this approach has cut off the side’s nose to spite their face.
Selection policy has become impatient and short sighted when it comes to the top order.
Alastair Cook has gone through 11 opening partners since the retirement of Andrew Strauss in 2012, now compounded by more gaps at numbers three and five.
Yet in the midst of chaos, Moeen Ali has emerged as a reliable and increasingly threatening allrounder.
But, it’s easy to reflect on his 25 wickets and over 252 runs against South Africa with rose tinted glasses.
It hasn’t always been plain sailing. Moeen Ali has batted in every position from one to nine, only scored one century in his first 20 Tests, and was averaging more than 50 in 2016.
England stuck with him, because they believed in him. They wanted Moeen because of the potential he offered. Perhaps the biggest seal of approval, was the bringing in Saqlain Mushtaq to assist him. Moeen has now said he wants him there permanently.
Ali has been an investment for England. His form has been changeable, but the concept is right.
The question, is why have England openers not been invested in? They have been tried and trashed. Quickly.
It ultimately lies in trust.
England have picked openers because of county form, with the hope they’d continue that. But they couldn’t, or at least not instantaneously.
But, It takes time to adapt. Keaton Jennings, like Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook scored a century on debut, and now he looks frail. But, no more frail than how Moeen himself looked in the first two years of his career – when he showed inconsistency.
They kept him and trusted him to recover. The investment was seen as worthwhile.
Jennings, and the hoard of other openers, haven’t been trusted to be able to adapt.
Within five or six Tests of his debut hundred, there are calls to drop Jennings and replace him with with yet another cab-off-the-rank from county cricket, with no-doubt, an impressive domestic record.
Why pick them in the first place if they aren’t going to be trusted?
England set a precedent in May 2013 when they dropped Nick Compton for the first time, and they’ve been doubling down ever since. They’ve been too afraid to change course.
Nick Compton had success opening for England. He scored two centuries in New Zealand, and had a good partnership with Alastair Cook. He was experienced, and in form. He needed to work on his game, but who doesn’t?
Dropping him set the ball rolling for England’s opening policy.
Openers are disposable, not investments.
Until a new Andrew Strauss comes along, domestic performers can be used once and thrown away.
This is a ruinous policy. England need an opener. They need one that will work in the long run. They may struggle at first, but Moeen Ali’s progress shows what can be done with hard work.