England allrounder Moeen Ali could be dropped for the first time in his Test career as England search for a solution to their overseas woes after the innings defeat at Eden Park, which included being bowled out for 58.
Moeen played his 50th Test in Auckland and has only missed one Test since his debut in 2014 – that was due to injury, which forced him to sit out the Antigua Test against West Indies in early 2015. However, his torrid Ashes form has followed him to New Zealand as he made 0 and 28 with the bat in the first Test, then took 0 for 59 off 17 overs having averaged 115 with the ball against Australia.
“I’m sure he’s disappointed with the way he’s gone,” coach Trevor Bayliss said. “He had a fantastic summer, this winter away I’m sure hasn’t gone how he would have liked. I’m sure that will be a discussion.”
There are a couple of routes England could take to replace Moeen. Given his lack of bowling impact, they could opt for another batsman – a potential debut for Liam Livingstone who would offer some part-time spin alongside Joe Root and Dawid Malan – and throw the bowling weight behind four quicks, including a possible recall for Mark Wood.
Another option would be to hand Jack Leach, the Somerset left-arm spinner who replaced Mason Crane, a first outing. England are likely to be wary of lengthening the tail, but the onus should be on the top order to do most of the run-scoring and Moeen has barely contributed with the bat recently.
“Having lost this game, they will certainly come into contention and certainly will be spoken about,” Bayliss said. “Having lost so many games overseas, we’ve given a lot of guys an opportunity who haven’t really grabbed hold of it. At some stage we have to look at who is next. That will certainly be discussed over the next couple of days.”
There could be multiple changes after England’s fifth innings defeat in eight Tests away from home, with Wood in contention to offer a different dimension to the pace attack. He would be a likely swap for Craig Overton who claimed 1 for 70 in Auckland. If Wood did play, it would be his first Test since Lord’s against South Africa last July, when he suffered a heel injury due to wearing the wrong insoles in his bowling boots.
“He was buzzing during the one-day series,” Bayliss said of Wood. “That [playing a Test] would be something he hasn’t done for a while, but his ankle is fine and he’s in a good head space.”
The other member of the bowling attack under pressure is Chris Woakes after a wicketless display in Auckland which took his overseas average to 61.77. However, he showed his value with the bat as he made a 118-ball 52 on the final day to give England a glimmer of escaping with a draw and his lower-order value may yet save him.
“Hopefully he can bowl a lot more like he did in the one-dayers,” Bayliss said. “What he showed in the one-day series was the length – he just got a little bit fuller and that puts pressure on, that fullish good length rather than that shortish good length. At home all pace bowlers can run in and the ball fairly naturally moves, where you have to work a little bit harder away from home with the Kookaburra ball on flatter wickets.”
England’s thinking will be partly dictated by the fitness of Ben Stokes who struggled with his back towards the end of his four-and-a-half hour 66. However, it is believed the pain stemmed for the amount of time at the crease – it was Stokes’ first first-class match since September and his fourth-longest Test innings in terms of balls faced – rather than a reaction to his attempts to increase his bowling workloads in training. Shortly before the first Test it was decided he was not ready to act as a fifth bowler, but he ran through his action before play each day.
Bayliss did not know whether he would be a bowling option in Christchurch, but was encouraged by his display with the bat having long endorsed Stokes as a No. 5
“The way he went about it over the last home summer, it stood out that he had the ability to be a world-class No. 5. I think we saw that again yesterday when it was tough and under a lot of a pressure. He led from the front doing the hard yards.”