The right idea: Ponting's plan to blunt Moeen
Former Test skipper says Australia will nullify England’s spinner if they select right-handed batsmen in the Ashes
25 July 2019, 08:00 PM AEST
While runs and wickets are the standard currency in selection meetings, former Test skipper Ricky Ponting has urged Australia’s think tank not to overlook another factor when they finalise their Ashes squad this week.
Which side of the bat each batsman stands on.
Ponting believes a middle order full of right-handers will help Australia neutralise the impact England’s main spinner Moeen Ali will have in the upcoming series, which would represent a major battle won in their quest to retain the urn.
Ponting says Australia’s batsmen will try and attack Moeen’s bowling during the five-Test campaign, but adds such a tactic will be a lot easier to execute for right-handed batsmen.
"I think they'll try and target him," Ponting told cricket.com.au. "But I think the challenge they're going to have is just the amount of left handers that potentially are in the Australian side.
"(Moeen) bowls very well to left-handed batsmen, we know that, as most right-arm off-spinners do.
"If we stacked our middle order full of right-handed batters, then I think he’ll be a lot less effective in this series than if we have it chock-a-block full of left handers.
"They have to pick their best batsmen, but maybe also with an eye on what the opposition might roll out as well."
A breakdown of Moeen’s career statistics underline Ponting’s analysis; numbers from Opta reveal the off-spinner averages 10.3 runs per wicket less against left-handed batsmen during his career (29.7 against lefties, 40.0 against right-handers) while his career strike rates (54.5 and 63.6), economy rates (3.28 and 3.77) and false shot percentages (17.5% to 15.9%) are all superior against left-handers.
The data from Opta also suggests Australia’s right-handers were successful in their efforts to attack Moeen during the Ashes in the UK four years ago; the Englishman picked up just five wickets at 60 and conceded almost five runs per over against right-handers in the 2015 series, compared to seven wickets at 35 at an economy rate of 3.86 against lefties.
The problem with Australia adopting that attacking mindset against Moeen during the upcoming series, as Ponting points out, is the number of left-handed batsmen who are pushing for Ashes spots.
Former vice-captain David Warner, fellow opener Marcus Harris and experienced No.3 Usman Khawaja will all be difficult to overlook, while incumbents Travis Head and Kurtis Patterson as well as red-hot wicketkeeper-batsmen Matthew Wade and Alex Carey have put forward strong cases for selection.
Given all six of those players are left-handed, that could give right-handed batting options like Joe Burns, Cameron Bancroft, Peter Handscomb, Will Pucovski and Marnus Labuschagne the edge in a tie-breaker situation when selectors settle on the auxiliary batting options in their squad.
While Australia’s approach against Moeen’s bowling is complex, Ponting says there’s no mystery about how they will try and limit his impact with the bat.
Simply toss the ball to Nathan Lyon.
Lyon dismissed Moeen a record seven times from nine attempts in Australia 18 months ago, including four LBW dismissals, in a disappointing campaign for the allrounder that led to him being dropped from England’s Test team.
It was a one-sided contest that Moeen himself took in good humour; Ponting relayed a story from the end of the series when the England spinner is said to have come into the Australian rooms with a piece of paper on his front leg that featured a target and the message ‘Nathan, hit me here’.
Lyon’s hold over Moeen will undoubtedly lead to an enthralling - albeit predictable - contest every time the Englishman walks out to bat over the coming weeks, which Ponting likened to a famous personal battle he had during his career.
"It was the same with Harbhajan and me," Ponting said of his rivalry with India’s fiery off-spinner at the start of this century.
"Whenever I went out to bat, Harbhajan would come on and he seemingly had a bit of a spell on me as well. You look forward to those battles and you know that if you can get through that, you're probably going to have a good day or a good series.
"There's definitely a mental hurdle there for Moeen as well and Gaz (Lyon) just knows that he’s got him, he’s on top of him and he’ll keep going after him.
"He knows that (Lyon) is going to bowling to him whenever he comes out to bat. It’ll probably be (Lyon) from one end and our fastest bowler from the other.
"Life is not going to get much easier for Moeen Ali as a batsman."
2019 Qantas Ashes Tour of England
Tour match: Hick XII v Haddin XII, July 23-26
First Test: Edgbaston, August 1-5
Tour match: Australians v Worcestershire, August 7-9
Second Test: Lord's, August 14-18
Third Test: Headingley, August 22-26
Tour match: Australians v Derbyshire, August 29-31
Fourth Test: Old Trafford, September 4-8
Fifth Test: The Oval, September 12-16