Moeen scored just three runs at Galle and suffered a golden duck in the first innings, leaving him with an average of 14.50 after six Test innings at No. 3. Four of those six innings have been single-figure scores, though he did make a first-innings half-century in the final Test of the English summer against India.
He has batted everywhere from No. 1 to No. 9 for England and before the first warm-up game, where he scored 60 at at No. 7, was told he would definitely not be at three in Galle. While Bayliss accepts Moeen has been “thrown around a bit” by England, he also hinted that they could well make a change ahead of Pallekele.
In an ideal world, Bayliss would like Joe Root to move to No. 3. But he respects the captain’s point of view – Root has invariably said he would prefer to go in at No. 4 – and feels that should take precedence. Jonny Bairstow, who is recovering from an ankle injury, is one option to bat at No. 3, but Bayliss suggested that Buttler, who may have batted there anyway had England bowled first in Galle, and Stokes, whose technique won more praise from the coach, were more realistic candidates.
“Moeen has had a few opportunities, let’s be honest, up the order, and at this stage hasn’t really taken them,” Bayliss said. “He’s obviously going to be in the team somewhere. And there’s still a chance he’ll bat at No. 3 in Kandy, but I think he’s had the most success in that middle-lower order.
“He sees himself as a batter first and a bowler second. And yes, he’s been a guy we have thrown around a little bit. That’s sometimes the lot of an all-rounder in the team. But he has had the most success in that middle-lower order and we’re starting to get a little closer to a stable order.
“Everyone knows my thoughts on the captain batting at three. But Buttler and Stokes are quite capable of batting there. It’ll be a bit of a discussion and we’ll sit down with those two as well.
“In the Galle Test, if we had bowled first and Moeen had bowled 40 overs, Buttler was going to bat at No 3. Jonny Bairstow is an option and Ben Stokes as well. We feel, in England, that Stokes has as good a technique as anyone else to bat No 3. So we’ll sit down with Buttler and Stokes. They are quite capable of batting there.”
Despite Ben Foakes modestly suggesting Bairstow may reclaim the gloves for the Pallekele Test, Bayliss strongly hinted Foakes was likely to retain them for the long term.
“Look, he’s done exceptionally well,” Bayliss said. “He kept like we knew he could. And his batting… we knew he was a good player. But his innings the other day was top class. I envisage that he’ll play a lot of Test cricket for England.
“So one of the possibilities is that Jonny plays as a specialist batsman. But Foakesy’s one of our better fielders as well. We’ve got three keepers in the team who are all pretty good fielders. We’re not going to give too much away just yet because I’m not sure we’re 100% certain ourselves exactly what the make-up of the team is going to be.”
If Bairstow is fit – and that’s not yet certain – England face some tough selection decisions. But while Bayliss was sympathetic to the individuals nervously awaiting the outcome of the next meeting, he urged all the players to see the bigger picture: it’s about the team; not the individual.
“Look, Buttler was disappointed he wasn’t keeping at Galle. We’ve got three guys who want to keep so I don’t think it matters who misses out, they are going to be disappointed. They all see themselves as a wicketkeeper.
“Stuart Broad took being left out extremely well. He knew exactly where we were at and who we were going to pick in conditions we were confronted with. He actually said to me he’d have gone with that team as well. He had no worries about missing out.
“But I’m not going to make any excuses for some of these younger players coming in and putting pressure on these guys in the team. Long term that is what England wants. We want pressure on every position in the team, which we haven’t had that over the last two or three years. It ups the standard of the guys in the team who have to look over their shoulder and think ‘I’ve got to score runs and take wickets here or I’m going to miss out’.
“The good thing about this team is that they all take it on the chin and understand it is all for the good of the team. And if players aren’t happy with their predicament then they might find themselves out of the team because they are not scoring runs and taking wickets. That is just a fact of life at this level.”