Fit-again Moeen returns for tour match |

Fit-again Moeen returns for tour match

12 November 2017

England get a timely boost as star allrounder is confirmed fit for final practice match ahead of the Ashes

There was at least one piece of good news for England on their arrival in Townsville on Sunday evening, namely coach Trevor Bayliss confirming key allrounder Moeen Ali is fit for this week’s final Magellan Ashes warm-up match against a Cricket Australia XI.

Moeen had been laid low with a side strain that was first detected on the team's arrival in Perth a fortnight ago and he missed both his side’s opening two tour matches, including the 192-run win against a CA XI in Adelaide last week.

But he will play in the four-day game against the same opposition starting on Wednesday and, all being well, will be good to go for the first Ashes Test in Brisbane, starting on November 23.

"Mo's fine," Bayliss said. "He’s been bowling and batting (in the nets) during this match (in Adelaide).

"He thinks he could have played in Adelaide. There are no concerns there, he will be playing in Townsville."

A tour of Townsville with Andrew Symonds

Positive news has been thin on the ground for England so far on this tour, despite the win in Adelaide.

The absence of Ben Stokes, the talismanic allrounder who is the beating heart of this team, is having an effect on the squad whatever Bayliss and the players say in public.

There is an admission among the touring party that Stokes is unlikely to play any part in the Ashes and they are preparing as if that will be the case.

Yet there is still the hope among players and management that if the police investigation into his late-night altercation in Bristol in September is concluded soon then he could be in Australia in time for the third Test in Perth in mid-December.

With no Stokes, the balance of England’s team is altered, with an extra frontline seam bowlers required to cover his absence.

It would be handy, then, if they could go a week without losing any quicks to injury. Week one saw Steven Finn tear a cartilage in his right knee and return home while week two witnessed Jake Ball break down during the match in Adelaide. Ball has been ruled out for between a week and 10 days with strained ankle ligaments and is facing a race against time to be fit for the first Test, although Bayliss is confident he'll be cleared to play if required.

It's nonetheless a headache for the tourists and there was no wonder why Bayliss, when asked why 20-year-old left-arm quick George Garton has been called up as cover for the week in Townsville, replied: "Because he’s fit."

However, despite the injuries, England will now feel a lot more positive about their bowling attack for the Ashes than they were a week ago.

James Anderson, named Stokes’ replacement as vice-captain last week, has looked good in both matches so far, moving both the red and pink Kookaburra balls. He will be rested for the Townsville match in preparation for the Gabba.

Stuart Broad, who admitted he "bowled like a drain" in the first tour match in Perth, will play this week after being rested in Adelaide and should hopefully find some rhythm and form.

But it is the displays of the other two bowlers that are likely to comprise England’s Ashes attack that is most encouraging.

Chris Woakes, poor in Perth, got better with every spell at Adelaide Oval, ending with the haul of 4-12 that routed the CA XI top order in the final session of the third day.

England destroy CA XI under lights

Craig Overton, too, is starting to look like a serious bowler at this level, the Somerset player taking four wickets last week and enjoying the extra bounce Australian pitches offer and finding movement too.

England will believe that with reliable back-up for Anderson and Broad, they can take 20 wickets in Brisbane and beyond to put Australia under severe pressure.

However, the batting, especially the poor form of former skipper Alastair Cook, whose top score in three innings is 32, is a real concern for the tourists.

"I think it would be fair to say Cooky always looks a bit rusty," Bayliss quipped.

Cook will want runs in Townsville and while he is just as likely to hit a match-shaping century in Brisbane on the back of no runs, a significant score would do his confidence no harm.

The Essex opener was the architect of England’s series win in Australia in 2010-11, hitting 766 runs. This time, though, he will not have to do it on his own. The rest of England’s top six have passed 50 at least once, with captain Joe Root, Moeen and Jonny Bairstow the other danger men Australia will have to counter.

Opener Mark Stoneman, with three half-centuries in as many innings, appears solid and should not let anyone down. Dawid Malan has also had a decent start to the tour at No.5 in the order and should be able to approach the Ashes with belief and confidence.

Stoneman makes it three half-centuries in a row

The big worry other than Cook in the top six is James Vince. Pitched at No.3, he looks far too loose and flighty to succeed against Australia’s attack. Vince, called up a year after being dropped, is the weak link in that line-up.

Bayliss is at least happy with where the squad are now.

"We are slowly getting there," said the Australian.

"We have still got some improvement in us and a way to go for that first Test. But we’re going in the right direction."


2017-18 International Fixtures:

Magellan Ashes Series

First Test Gabba, November 23-27. Buy tickets

Second Test Adelaide Oval, December 2-6 (Day-Night). Buy tickets

Third Test WACA Ground, December 14-18. Buy tickets

Fourth Test MCG, December 26-30. Buy tickets

Fifth Test SCG, January 4-8 (Pink Test). Buy tickets

Gillette ODI Series v England

First ODI MCG, January 14. Buy tickets

Second ODI Gabba, January 19. Buy tickets

Third ODI SCG, January 21. Buy tickets

Fourth ODI Adelaide Oval, January 26. Buy tickets

Fifth ODI Perth TBC, January 28. Join the ACF

Prime Minister's XI

PM's XI v England Manuka Oval, February 2. Buy tickets

Gillette T20 INTL Series

First T20I Australia v NZ, SCG, February 3. Buy tickets

Second T20I – Australia v England, Blundstone Arena, February 7. Buy tickets

Third T20I – Australia v England, MCG, February 10. Buy tickets

Fourth T20I – NZ v England, Wellington, February 13

Fifth T20I – NZ v Australia, Eden Park, February 16

Sixth T20I – NZ v England, Seddon Park, February 18

Final – TBC, Eden Park, February 21

About the Writer


Chris Stocks is a freelance cricket writer based in London. He is a regular contributor to the Guardian, Daily Mail, Independent and London Evening Standard.