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Moeen v Rashid England's only selection dilemma

There will be no shock selections in England's squad for the first Investec Ashes Test to be named at Lord's on Wednesday

George Dobell
George Dobell
There will be no shock selections - no Ashton Agar or Darren Pattinson - in England's squad for the first Investec Ashes Test to be named at Lord's on Wednesday.
While the arrival of a new coach might provide a wildcard element to the process, it would be brave to the point of insanity if Trevor Bayliss started his new role by making dramatic changes to an England side that have won five and lost two of their last eight Tests. Especially as he has spent most of his first few days of the job in Spain.
In truth, selection for the first Test is probably as predictable as at any time since Andy Flower was coach. Mark Wood has earned the right to go into the series as first-change seamer and Adam Lyth will open the batting. Gary Ballance will not be dropped after a couple of modest games and a couple of excellent deliveries.
The only issue open to any sort of debate is the position of the spinner. While it seems highly likely that Moeen Ali will play in Cardiff, it is quite possible that Adil Rashid, the Yorkshire legspinner, will be included in the squad with a view to Bayliss taking a look at him in training and for him to gain more familiarity with the Test squad.
The attraction of Rashid is not just his bowling. It is what he represents. While offspinners appear - rightly or wrongly - to be associated with attrition, control and safety, legspinners evoke attack, positivity and aggression. Rashid's selection may well reflect the public appetite to attack.
But it remains likely that the selectors will keep faith with Moeen. While he did not enjoy a good Caribbean tour - he was a late addition to the squad due to injury and looked rusty throughout - his bowling in last summer's victory over India was exactly what England required. He combined control with an element of threat, gaining sharp dip and demonstrating an arm-ball that was not so different to Graeme Swann's. If he bowls as well this summer, he will be fine. If he bowls as he did in the Caribbean, he will be dropped.
Rashid, by comparison, is significantly slower through the air and has not, to this point in his career, offered the same levels of consistency. He will turn the ball both ways, even in the first innings, and he may prove dangerous for tailenders, in particular.
But the concern - and it is a reasonable concern - is that, with a four-man seam attack containing two fairly inexperienced and potentially expensive fast bowlers, it will be important for the spinner to maintain some control and bowl some tight overs in unhelpful conditions. In order to do that, he will require assistance from his captain. Alastair Cook has many positive qualities but he has yet to demonstrate a huge amount of imagination in the field. Rashid's inclusion would represent quite a challenge for him.
Rashid's exposure to the England squad over the winter appears to have been helpful, however. He is bowling with just a little more pace and is conceding almost an identical number of runs per over as Moeen this season. He was one of the successes of the ODI series against New Zealand and is certainly a viable option. If his Test debut does not come this summer, it surely will in the UAE against Pakistan later this year.
Despite the much-repeated myth that Moeen is a "part-time" bowler, it is not so. Since the start of the 2012 season, he has bowled more deliveries in first-class cricket than Rashid or even a county stalwart such as Gareth Batty. His bowling average in that time is also better than Rashid's. Even this season, Moeen has bowled more overs in first-class cricket than Rashid and his record in Test cricket this year - 11 wickets in four Tests at an average of 41.63 - is not quite as grim as some might suggest.
Could both play? It seems unlikely. Despite the warm weather and the fact that England picked both Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann for the Cardiff Test of 2009, it is more likely that England will rely on Joe Root and perhaps Lyth for additional overs if required. There is a distant possibility of omitting Ballance to accommodate both spinners but it would be a major surprise. It is 30 years since England picked two spinners in a home Test and won.
Jonny Bairstow, plundering runs in all formats, can count himself unlucky if, as expected, he does not make the squad. But he is making a strong case as a batsman, averaging 106.00 in the Championship this year, and has probably moved to the position of first reserve ahead of James Taylor, Alex Hales or Eoin Morgan.
The reserve bowlers, the likes of Liam Plunkett and Mark Footitt, will have to wait, too. While England will hope to play James Anderson and Stuart Broad in all five Tests, it seems Wood may require rotating. The presence of the allrounder, Ben Stokes, should ease the burden a little but Wood's unique selling point - his explosive quality - needs to be preserved. Footitt, with his pace and his swing harnessed by the coaching of Graeme Welch, could yet prove to be the most influential left-arm pace bowler in the series. It would be quite a story.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo