Peter Moores is confident the runs will soon flow for England’s Test openers, but admits the lack of an established frontline spinner is a weakness which must be addressed.
The form of captain Alastair Cook – fined yesterday over the team’s slow over rate – and a shaky debut for Sam Robson, were among matters arising from England’s agonising near miss against Sri Lanka in the first Investec Test at Lord’s. But Moores will not fret over either batsman in the three days before battle is resumed at Headingley.
Neither can England’s head coach waste energy in that time frame worrying about credible contenders to fill the void left by Graeme Swann’s retirement – but he accepts in the longer term it is non-negotiable to have a wicket-taking spinner in his team. At Lord’s, the option was all-rounder Moeen Ali, who has been retained for Leeds, but it was the pace of James Anderson and Stuart Broad which took England to within one wicket of a victory.
Ultimately, they had to settle for a frustrating stalemate, and one of Moores’ most pressing tasks will be to ensure England do not dwell on that disappointment to the detriment of their next performance. He knows, too, however, that he needs to work out as a priority whether off-spinner Moeen can develop into his role or others – such as out-of-sorts Monty Panesar – may be the man against India in five Tests this summer.
“We are going to have to identify our next spinner, there’s no doubt about that,” said Moores. “All sides need the option of a frontline spinner and there will be times when you definitely need one. [One, or a couple] are going to have to play for us to be able to cover all options. Otherwise it is going to be a weakness in our ranks that people will be able to try to exploit.”
No-one has put himself at the top of an extensive but far from compelling list of candidates.
Panesar’s difficulties on and off the pitch place a question mark over whether he will add to his 50 Tests, while his fellow left-arm orthodox Simon Kerrigan and leg-spinner Scott Borthwick have endured chastening debuts against Australia.
Kent off-spinner Adam Riley is another name in Moores’ thoughts but he has precious little experience. “Kerrigan statistically has been the most prolific in first-class cricket,” said Moores. “If you take that as one of the gauges, that puts him in the frame. Obviously Riley has come on the scene, and Monty is the most experienced Test match bowler but, through other issues, he has made it very difficult to look at him at the moment as an option.”
Moores feels unable at present to endorse Panesar’s chances of facing India. “The key is to put himself up for selection like anyone else,” he said. “Monty has to get himself in that place.”
Moeen therefore heads the queue. “I think he has the chance at the moment,” added Moores. “He is getting better quite quickly. He is going to have to adjust to take wickets as a Test match bowler.”
Cook, meanwhile, has gone 22 Test innings since his last hundred. He remains England’s most prolific all-time Test centurion, but has not reached three figures since his last visit to Leeds more than a year ago.
Moores gives no credence to the suggestion Cook’s leadership might have been compromised at Lord’s by his relative lack of runs.
“I don’t think so,” he insisted. “He would love to have got a score, but I thought he captained well. His bowling changes were good right down to the end. We are talking about a player here who is England’s most successful centurion.
“You will go through periods of form, and he is working towards that. He is desperately keen, like everyone in that side, to get a score.”
Robson will be, too, having fallen cheaply twice on his home ground to one delivery which swung down the Lord’s slope then one that went up it. On that evidence, experts have had a considerable say already about the 24-year-old’s methods. But asked if it is too early to make fair judgments, Moores said: “I think it is. The challenge for players is to handle that and be true to your own technique and trust it. With Sam’s technique, he has the opportunity to evolve.
“If you analyse any player you can always find faults. It is how they apply what they’ve got and score runs.”