LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 09: Moeen Ali of England bats during day three of the Specsavers 5th Test match between England and India at The Kia Oval on September 9, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

Is Moeen Ali At Three A Long-Term Solution?

Joe Root has been rather inconsistent lately. A poor conversion rate and a technical deficiency to play in-swingers has contributed to a torrid run of form. At the beginning of Root’s captaincy, he was adamant that he wanted to bat at number four. Even after trying Tom Westley and James Vince at three and failing, Root persisted with his ideology.

Then came England’s home season when he decreed he would move one spot up the order and occupy that treacherous number three position. A tough series against India, where he struggled to convert starts into meaningful scores, except for the last Test, clearly sent him into panic mode.

After Root only managed four in the first innings at Southampton, Moeen Ali came out to bat at three in the second innings. To change your batting line-up so significantly during a match is extremely rare and must have been done in dire circumstances.

However, England persisted with this approach for the final Test of the series at the Oval. It reaped huge rewards, as Root went on to score a magnificent hundred in the third innings. Root will now no doubt be reluctant to return back to the number three slot after finally returning to form at number four.

This is all well and good, but it begs the question of who ought to occupy the number three spot for England. Moeen Ali took this slot for the Oval Test, but is he really England’s long-term answer to this problem?

England have a tough tour of Sri Lanka fast approaching and it will be their first tour since Alastair Cook’s retirement. In many ways it will be a new look England side, a new opening partnership and a new opening bowler combination – as Broad and Anderson are set to be rested. This has been confirmed by Stuart Broad’s broken/bruised rib.
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The fifth Test against India, a dead rubber, would have been the ideal time to try out a new number three in a low pressure situation. Yet, England’s decision to persist with Moeen Ali at three suggests that this move could be more than the simple quick-fix it was initially thought to be.

There are numerous advantages to it. It allows England to play an extra all-rounder, which is currently their main strength. Ali already showed the grit and determination required to bat at number three in the first innings. Despite constantly playing and missing and living dangerously, Moeen gritted it out and battled through to play an innings that drew parallels to Geoffrey Boycott. Playing spin well could ensure that Ali occupies this number three role for the Sri Lanka tour.

However, Angus Fraser would disagree. He told Love Sport Radio that James Vince is still England’s best option to occupy that number three role. Vince has done exceptionally well in the County Championship this year, currently the second highest run scorer in division one (behind Rory Burns). He has scored 896 runs at an average of close to 45. England ought to select him for their tour of Sri Lanka.

If Vince does get on the plane, it could be a sign that Ali’s move up the order was a short-term fix strewn out of panic.

What do you think? Who is England’s best number three?

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