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The importance of Moeen Ali


Moeen_Ali_England_Cricket_ODISomething strange stands out about English cricketer Moeen Ali. Maybe it is his calm demeanour that almost makes him seem a misfit in the English cricketing set-up, that is now accustomed to more boisterous cricketers. Maybe it is his reputation as a bits-and-pieces cricketer that denies him the same attention that the likes of Jonny Bairstow or Ben Stokes receive.

Or, maybe, it is just his own choice to stay away from the limelight that keeps getting showered on his more famed teammates, so that he can instead focus on his batting and his bowling – something that came to the fore when India toured the country back in 2014.

Having made his debut against Sri Lanka in June 2014, Ali’s big test was always going to be when MS Dhoni’s India landed in England for a gruelling series. With a part-time off spinner chosen in the ranks for England, it was assumed that the Indian batsmen would have it tougher against the likes of James Anderson and Stuart Broad, whilst easily navigating the spin “threat” in the form of Ali. After all, they were meant to be the best players of spin and England’s ploy of picking an inexperienced youngster as their main spinner drew criticism from all around.

Amidst this hullabaloo, Ali silently entered the frame and walked away with 19 wickets in 8 innings, including a breath-taking 6/67 at Old Trafford. These 19 wickets were the fourth highest haul by any spinner outside the sub-continent against India. While he had already notched up a hundred in his debut series against the Lankans, England, who were struggling to find a match-winning spinner after the surprise retirement of Graeme Swann, needed Ali the spinner more than they needed Ali the batsman.

Since that historical series, he has taken 133 wickets at an average of 40.24 in 49 Tests and 59 wickets at 47.84 in 71 ODIs. At a glance, the above numbers hardly inspire confidence, and one will not be blamed for questioning the player’s skills.

In the batting department, he has scored at an average of 32.89 in Tests and 28.35 in ODIs. But it is not the number of runs he scores or the wickets he picks up; it is the way he gets them that has remained the talking point in Ali’s inconsistent career so far.

Admittedly, Ali has had blips in his international career, none greater than the one against Australia, when he ended the 5 recent Ashes Tests with just 5 wickets to his name. Yes, he had a side strain and then a finger injury that hampered his bowling preparations ahead of the all-important clash, and it can also be argued that none of the spinning greats have fared particularly well in Australia. But the series was often considered as a shoot-out between the sides’ bowling attacks, pitting Australia’s Nathan Lyon against England’s Ali. With 21 wickets to his name, Lyon further dented Ali’s ego, which had been on a high after a stunning summer against South Africa.

The maverick picked up 25 wickets in 4 Tests against the Proteas at home, including a ten-wicket haul at Lord’s. He dismissed the in-form Dean Elgar on three occasions and, other than Hashim Amla, no other South African batsman could deal with his spin. Quinton de Kock averaged just 9.5 against the off-spinner and no other player looked at ease against him throughout their stay in the country. With the bat, he notched up 252 runs, with a crucial 87 in Lord’s. Fittingly, the 30-year-old took the last two wickets that fell in the series, ending with a hattrick to become the first cricketer to pick up 25 wickets and score more than 250 runs in a 4-match series.

But the tables turned when the horrid tour to Australia refused to change his and the team’s fortunes and once again the cries for his place gained ground.

"When you lose a bit of confidence in your own game sometimes you try harder and it can be that the harder you try the worse it gets. That's what was happening. You try everything - different approaches going into bat, be positive, but nothing really came off and like I said the harder I tried the worse it was getting. These things happen, and you can learn from them.”

And that is exactly what happened in the ODI series that followed the Ashes. Once the formats changed, so did Ali’s fortunes. He had learnt the trick of bamboozling the big-hitters. He picked up 5 wickets in the 5 ODI games against Australia with an economy of 4.95 and further improved upon that in the series against New Zealand.

On pitches that usually do not assist spin, the lanky bowler has snared 5 wickets in 3 games, at an average of 19.8 and an excellent economy of 3.96. These performances only help to elevate his position ahead of next year’s World Cup that will be played in England.

Yes, Ali has had his off days as much as he has had good days. But when on song, he can rattle the very best, which is why the English selectors have hardly dropped him from the radar even when his performance dips below expectations.


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