Cricket

Moeen Ali and Alex Hales fluff their lines for England opener role

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Moeen Ali and Alex Hales both failed to impress as Alastair Cook's prospective new Test opening partner in a patchy England performance against Pakistan A in Sharjah.

England eventually lost 11 wickets for 198 in reply to their hosts' 12 for 192 in a curious warm-up match, but of more significance were the fluffed auditions for next week's first Test from Moeen and Hales, who both departed inside four overs.

There was some good news for England as back-to-form Ian Bell (53) and James Taylor (61) shared a century stand before both retired at lunch.

Four hours later, after Moeen had returned at number 11 and failed again in a second innings, Taylor too was back to turn his score of 45 into a half-century.

There was little sense to any of it, of course, apart from as preparation in the short time allowed for the start of a three-match series against Pakistan in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday.

Only then will England begin to discover whether the end is to justify the means.

With Hales and Moeen gone so soon, Bell and Taylor steadied England from 16 for two. Following their double retirement, four more wickets fell for just nine runs.

England had set out by prior arrangement to bat throughout the day, but left-armers Junaid Khan and Mir Hamza (four for 34) quickly picked up an opener each.

Moeen was already unconvincing before he aimed a loose push-drive at Junaid, and edged instead to second slip.

Hales went in strikingly similar fashion, this time edging to first slip as Hamza angled one across him.

Taylor had early moments of concern, inside-edging Junaid past his leg stump and also surviving a loud appeal by Hamza for lbw.

But he was otherwise solid, pulling the seamers especially well - while Bell used his feet to hit Zafar Gohar for a straight six and went on to complete his 90-ball 50 by the time a late lunch was taken to accommodate Friday prayers.

England were sufficiently emboldened to pull in the third-wicket pair, and allow others a chance.

It was a move that came to nought for Ben Stokes, bowled on the back-foot defence when occasional off-spinner Iftikhar Ahmed got one to turn from round the wicket and hit the top of off stump to see off the all-rounder for the second match in succession.

Jos Buttler tried to dig in but fell tamely, poking a slower ball from Hamza straight to cover, and the left-armer was on a hat-trick when Jonny Bairstow was squared up and edged behind first ball.

Bairstow left with a quizzical expression, presumably over whether the low catch had quite carried, and Adil Rashid was then positively astounded to be given out stumped after the ball rolled back off his bat to wicketkeeper Adnan Akmal off Gohar.

There was not the remotest doubt about Liam Plunkett's stumping - and when Samit Patel gloved an attempted pull behind to go for a laboured eight from 41 balls, England were all out by conventional measurements.

But in this match bereft of usual rules, instead Moeen and Buttler found themselves batting together in a second innings for each.

In the circumstances, it was comparative normality when the same two batsmen appeared again after tea.

For Moeen, it proved a short excursion before he was out for a second time in the day - for an aggregate 19 - lbw walking across his stumps to Hamza.

There was the consolation before stumps, though, of Taylor's continued assurance and signs too that Buttler was perhaps batting himself into some much-needed form.

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