England’s new head coach Trevor Bayliss says he wants his tenure to be defined by a depressurised atmosphere in camp, translating to the kind of expressive cricket just witnessed in a thrilling Ashes warm-up series against New Zealand.
If such a mantra produces a series win over England’s oldest cricketing enemy – rated as a 3/1 chance – then Bayliss will not only be vindicated, he’ll be a national hero, although the Australian’s reception back home may be a little frostier.
Bayliss has already shown he is prepared to take it to Austraila by including Yorkshire leg-spinner Adil Rashid in a 13-man squad containing five players due to take their Ashes bows.
However, if he is really serious about “playing with freedom” then bestowing a first ever Test cap on Rashid in Cardiff, even at the expense of first-choice spinner Moeen Ali is in order.
The Aussie has already intimated the potential dryness of the pitch could present a scenario in which both slow bowlers get the nod, but such selections are rare on English shores and some rain is forecast in the build up.
While Moeen’s inclusion would bring continuity, with the Worcestershire spinner having played 11 Tests since June 2014, Rashid brings an element of surprise and crucially the confidence from his ODI and Yorkshire exploits.
Moeen’s off-breaks have been an efficient enough foil for the seamers, though an average of three wickets per match in his Test career so far are decent, if not fear-inducing.
Only his eight-wicket haul against India last summer stands out as a truly match-winning performance.
Rashid, whose first-class batting average is very close to that of Moeen’s, has delivered nearly twice as many balls in County cricket and although their economy and strike-rates are similar once more, the leg-spinner can turn it both ways as Bayliss has been keen to point out.
It’s widely accepted that Rashid is a genuine confidence player and having been included in squads, but not picked, for Tests throughout his career, nothing would give him greater belief than a first cap in Cardiff.
After making such a favourable impression in the ODIs against New Zealand with bat and ball, the twizzler took four more wickets for Yorkshire against Durham recently, while most of the England squad were sunning themselves in Spain.
Bayliss has the chance to be bold from the off in Wales.
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