Ashes diary: Moeen Ali, Joe Root and James Pattinson all under microscope ahead of Lord's Test

Lord's
Lord's

On the eve of a pivotal second Test at Lord's, Richard Mann brings you his latest Ashes diary.

Don't panic Mr Mainwaring, don't panic!

Jonny Bairstow, Joe Denly, Jason Roy, I hope you're sitting comfortably.

Nobody is safe. One bad game and a social media meltdown is clearly enough to cost you your place.

The decision to axe Moeen Ali is poor, and one that has seemingly been made in panic with a short-sighted vision.

Jonny Bairstow is out bowled again
Jonny Bairstow is out bowled again

Since his recall to the Test side in the middle of last summer, Ali has taken 48 wickets at an average of 25.27 and he bowled beautifully in helping England overcome India at home, and then Sri Lanka at the beginning of the winter.

Only a few months later Ali finished the tour of the West Indies as England's leading wicket-taker and for all he endured a poor match against Australia, who have become something of a bogey team for the spinner, it is hard to escape the feeling that he has been hard done by.

There are plenty of others in the England dressing room who haven't enjoyed the success in the last year or so that Ali has - Bairstow the most high-profile - and for all Ali's record against Australia is modest, he isn't the only one with England having lost six of the last seven Test matches they have played against Australia.

Sometimes you have to back your best players, confidence or no confidence, and with Australia's top six loaded with left-handers, England needed to persevere with their right-arm off-spinner.

Good luck to Jack Leach who has worked hard for this opportunity, but the left-armer won't find it easy against so many skilful left-handed Australian batsman, and if England think the Somerset man is the key to removing Steve Smith from the crease, they are in for a rude awakening.

Even before Smith's rise to the top, he was always a fine player of spin. It was that which earned him his recall to Australian Test cricket in 2013 and I doubt he's losing sleep over Leach, despite the numbers suggesting he isn't quite so dominant against left-arm spin.

Of course, the poor forecast might persuade England to field an all-seam attack at Lord's but with Old Trafford and The Oval to come, Leach won't have to wait long for his chance while Moeen, not surprisingly, takes a break from the game.

It's often said that England cricketers are only truly remembered for their performances against Australia, and I'm sad that Moeen won't get another chance against the old enemy this summer to prove his true worth.

I hope it's not the last we see of Moeen Ali in an England shirt.

Rain looms large and a crucial call at the toss

The forecast for the next few days at Lord's is foul and it no surprise that the draw is as short 8/11 with the amount of rain predicted on day one expected to see that price contract further.

There was a similar forecast for the Lord's Test with India last summer but there was enough time between the breaks to get a game in and, after James Anderson rolled India out for 107 in the first innings, the visitors were always on a slippery slope to defeat.

As was the case all last summer, Joe Root called correctly at the toss on that occasion but unlike in the other four matches in that series, bowling first provided the path for victory in London.

For the rest of the summer, batting first and posting any sort of first-innings score proved the way to go and that method again worked the oracle when England claimed an historic 3-0 victory in Sri Lanka only months later.

Tim Paine's decision at the toss last week, opting to bat first despite the overcast conditions, in the end proved the right one and with a world-class spinner like Nathan Lyon in his side, he will be loathe to bat last if given the choice.

Match winner: Nathan Lyon
Nathan Lyon

Nevertheless, England have requested a sporting surface here and with rain forecast all week and the Lord's lights sure to be needed at times when the wet stuff does relent, bowling first and making use of those conditions might look a temping option.

Like Australia, England have proven a better side when able to get runs on the board and dictate terms so they, too, will be mindful of batting last again with Lyon looming large as such a big threat in the latter stages of the match.

Root and Tim Paine have plenty to ponder ahead of this week's toss, both knowing that one wrong call could prove catastrophic.

With England 1-0 down in the series and Australia already in possession of the famous urn, Root, in particular, will be aware there is very little room for error, both out in the field and at the toss.

Australia full of surprises as fast bowlers go on trial

Rewind a couple of weeks and Australia provided the first big surprise of the series when opting to omit star bowlers Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood from their starting XI for Edgbaston.

On closer inspection it proved to be a masterstroke, James Pattinson's return to full fitness and his knowledge of English conditions from his time with Nottinghamshire making him a smart bet, while Peter Siddle's exclusion from the first four Ashes Tests here in 2015 was a mistake that Australia are minded not to repeat this time around.

With Pat Cummins now the number one bowler in the world and one of the first names on the Australian team sheet, there was no room at the inn for Starc and Hazlewood, despite the former's impressive World Cup campaign and the latter boasting a towering reputation to match his physical presence.

Second Test preview
Click on the image to read Richard Mann's second Test preview

Captain Paine and coach Justin Langer were able to revel in the decision following victory in Birmingham, their highly-skilled, hard-working bowling attack proving much too strong for England's batting line-up.

More of the same at Lord's then? Well, no.

Pattinson is out with Starc and Hazlewood in contention for a recall.

Hazlewood is expected to get the nod, his five wickets on this ground in 2015 and the obvious similarities in his bowling style to that of former Australian fast bowler Glenn McGrath seemingly working in his favour.

McGrath was a master at Lord's, utilising the famous slope to his advantage and terrorising England time after time.

Hazlewood is no McGrath, but he impressed in Australia's tour match against Worcestershire last week and with Paine keen to stress the fragile Pattinson won't overworked so early into a five-match series, the decision does make sense.

What it also does is offer a gentle reminder as to the great depth Australia have in their fast bowling stocks at present.

Fear not, though, England are giving a debut to some chap named Jofra Archer this week.


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