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England’s contract issue central to the international future for Moeen Ali

All-rounder is not on trip to South Africa with Test team and can plot career path on lucrative franchise circuit

The size of England’s tour party to South Africa betrays the uncertainties. A squad of 17 players is unusual given there are two warm-up matches and then four Tests in a row. Some of them – Matt Parkinson and Zak Crawley being the likeliest candidates – will be in the nets and in their bibs, enhancing their drink-ferrying capabilities for most of the tour.

One other, Mark Wood, will spend more time on the lonely rehabilitation road. It is quite a compliment to him that England are prepared to have him in the squad in the knowledge that he will not be fit at the beginning and that he will have no opportunity to prove his fitness in a match situation thereafter. Meanwhile, after the false start against Australia at Edgbaston last August there will be anxious glances in the direction of Jimmy Anderson when he takes to the field in the hope that his recuperation from his calf injury is complete. No doubt Saqib Mahmood, the solitary New Zealand tourist not to be picked, has been told to retain his fitness as best he can.

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