There is no way England should pick a player for a Test tour who is not 100 per cent sure he wants to be there, so it is only right Moeen Ali is not going to South Africa.
Test cricket is bloody hard work and, if you are not certain you want to be in that environment, like Moeen, then England should not be considering selecting him.
Moeen has said he wants to carry on playing just white-ball cricket at the moment, and he is well within his rights to do that because the one thing you have in your career is that control to choose your own path.
What he cannot expect is to walk straight back into the Test team when he decides the time is right for him because what he has done is give opportunities to others — in this case Jack Leach and Matt Parkinson — to do well in his place.
England should not be trying to twist his arm to change his mind and, personally, I wouldn’t have been looking to pick him for South Africa anyway because his record away from home has been poor and their priority must be trying to improve that. Moeen is a wonderful cricketer and his tally of 181 Test wickets makes him the fourth most prolific spinner in English Test history.
And if you look at the balance of the England side, with Jimmy Anderson back, there is a danger of a long tail if they include him, Stuart Broad and Jofra Archer for the first Test on Boxing Day in Centurion. Leach has done well with the bat but he’s not a No 8.
It would have been easy to think of Moeen as the answer to their problems at eight but what England must do is strike a balance between short-term gains and the need to plan for the long term, particularly away from home.
Is Parkinson a better cricketer than Moeen right now? No, and nor is Leach, so England will be a little bit weaker in that first Test of this high-profile tour because of Moeen’s absence. But England do have to think of the future as much as the present.
At least now one of the pair will have another chance to learn in overseas conditions because as seam-friendly as South Africa might be, it would be a nonsense if England went into a Test again without a spinner, as they did in Hamilton against New Zealand.
Leach has proved he is a fine bowler on the turning pitches of Taunton and in Sri Lanka last winter. What he needs to do is learn to take wickets and gain control on unresponsive surfaces. How do you think Daniel Vettori and Nathan Lyon, to name two finger spinners, did it? By being given experience away from what best suits them.
Let’s not forget why Moeen was left out of the Test team in the first place. He under-performed hugely with the bat and couldn’t take wickets away from home. England should not have an open-door policy now and think, ‘Crikey, we haven’t got a spin bowler who can bat at No 8. Let’s bring this lad back in straightaway’.
The same could be said for Jonny Bairstow because he has come back into the squad having been left out in New Zealand without having done anything to warrant regaining his place. But I do think his case is different.
I could understand Bairstow being taken out of the firing line and given a bit of time to reset. In Moeen’s case it’s mentally, but for Bairstow it was technically because he was getting bowled too often in Test cricket. He had got into good habits for white-ball cricket but bad ones for the Test game because he was staying too leg-side of the ball and he went away to work hard on that, notably at a training camp in South Africa ahead of selection.
There are no guarantees Bairstow will have cured the problem because he hasn’t played any red-ball cricket, but he had an excellent tour of South Africa last time, he is one of England’s best batsmen in all formats and an excellent back-up keeper.
He will keep batsmen in the top and middle order and Jos Buttler with the gloves on their toes because he could fill any role in the top seven. But if he is to bat in the top three, where England’s need is most acute, he will need to have changed that technique.