I was at Lords on the 9th July 2017 watching England take on South Africa which was the same day Moeen Ali took six wickets to complete a ten wicket haul in the match. On an unusually dry Lords wicket the Worcester man bowled beautifully to win the match in just a few hours for his country.
That series Ali would go onto do something no other player had achieved in a four match series before which was to take 25 wickets and score 250 runs. He was playing at the top of his game with bat and ball in his hand as he brought so much to the England side. His role away from the game inspiring young British Asians to play cricket shouldn’t be forgotten either as he has continued to be an excellent role model in speaking up around the issue.
The intervening time has not been as kind to the all-rounder however as last summer he was dropped from both the red and white ball teams. In an interview with the BBC this week Ali said he was taking a break from the longer form of the game to refresh his mind and take stock of where his career is going.
In the recent interview Ali spoke of the feeling he was unfairly being blamed more than other players when England lost. This is probably true due to his calm demeanour on the pitch no matter how he is performing. Generally the English public latch onto players who play their sport with their heart on their sleeve such as Gascoigne, Flintoff or Stokes. Ali getting caught on the boundary and then walking back in a way that suggests he doesn’t really care can make him an easy target for criticism.
At times with Moeen it was unclear whether he and the England management both agreed what his primary role was in the team. He was perhaps picked as the frontline spinner when in fact in his own mind Ali saw himself as a batsmen who bowled a bit.
He never really in a test shirt nailed down a spot in the batting order and in his time has ended up playing in every position from one to eight. Has he been to nice or willing to be flexible when in truth he should have put his foot down and demanded to be kept in the top seven, who knows?
His batting had reminded many people of David Gower a previous left hander whose game was very nice on the eye but equally frustrating. Of course his failure to nail down a solid position never helped but the Ali we last saw with the bat in test cricket was a long way from the one that nearly saved a test at Headingley in 2014 with a fabulous fifth day hundred.
Despite coming back strongly in 2018 with the ball at the first Ashes test last summer he looked drained of all confidence and belief. He looked like someone who was over thinking his game as he repeatedly slipped back into old habits of opening his shoulders in his release action.
Throughout his career his greatest strength as a bowler was to take wickets as he currently sits second to Graeme Swann in terms of England spin wicket takers however his Achilles’ heel has always been to defend and tie up an end. Eventually that caught up with him and the fourth day at Edgbaston was the final straw for the selectors.
So how do you solve a problem like Moeen Ali and what does the future hold? Well I’m sure he will continue to play a major part in England’s white ball plans but I’m not so sure we’ll be seeing Mo that often in the test arena. With a lack of room in England’s top seven he will have to play as a spinner which at 32 I’m not sure Ali would be willing to accept?
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