Dobell: England have a puncher’s chance
Moeen Ali really isn’t the sort to roar for his inclusion in a team or storm into the coach’s room demanding explanations.
When asked earlier in the tour whether it was an arm ball that had earned a wicket, he answered, “Nah, just one that didn’t spin”. When he found himself praising the number of maidens he had bowled, he added “I don’t do that very often”.
When asked to describe his dismissals in Mohali he uses the word “crap” and when asked whether he and Adil Rashid can replicate the success of England’s spinners in 2012 (when Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar took 19 wickets between them) he responds by laughing out loud. Indeed, when asked whether Rashid’s improved performance with the ball could put his own position under pressure, he agreed: “It’s just a matter of time.”
He is as modest and unassuming as international sportsmen come. He will never have a nickname like “The Big Show” (even if he does have more international centuries than Glenn Maxwell).
So perhaps it is relevant that, very gently, very politely, even a little bit apologetically, he has suggested he might like to have a settled batting position.
Moeen has batted everywhere from No. 1 to No. 9 in the Test team. He has opened the batting and the bowling. He has been pushed down the order to accommodate others and then promoted to cover for their failures. He has been asked to thrash for quick runs, block for draws, see off the new ball and shepherd the tail. His versatility is, no doubt, his greatest asset, but it might also be a bit of a curse. It is hardly a surprise that he has looked confused at times.
“Close in the future,” he said, reiterating the point that he is not demanding anything, just expressing an aspiration, “I’d like to have a position I can try to nail down.”
Almost immediately, he corrects himself.
“Obviously, I don’t mind. I just get on with it. Whatever they tell me.”
But then the elaboration hints at his frustration a little more.
“I was down to bat five from Bangladesh onwards,” he said. “But form or balance of the side meant I was pushed up to four and then three in the last innings. I don’t have a clue where I’m batting here yet. I’ll probably find out tomorrow.”
Perhaps the most revealing aspect of the conversation occurs when he is asked if his modesty, his humility, his “niceness” counts against him at times. He smiles.
“Probably, yes,” he said. “I’ve been told sometimes that’s not a good thing. Once my dad pulled me out of a club game when I was told I was batting seven. He said ‘No, you’re not, you’re not batting seven’.
“I was about 13 and I made the first team, and they told me I was batting seven. He said, ‘No, you’re not playing … let’s go’. But since then I’ve just got on with it.”
Moeen Ali made scores of 16 and 5 batting at No. 4 and No. 3 in Mohali © Associated Press
While the floating role is a frustration, Moeen enjoys the approach of this England side. He appreciates the encouragement to attack and the lack of consequences when it backfires. He enjoyed the opportunity for a few days away from the tour, too – something that would have been unthinkable a few years ago – and admits he “never thought about cricket once over three days chilling out in Dubai”.
He certainly hasn’t been beating himself up for the way he was dismissed in Mohali (caught at fine leg and mid-on). He doesn’t feel he has to be less attacking, he just has to attack better.
“I naturally play in quite a positive way anyway,” he said. “I just need to try to go back to how I batted in the first Test and try to replicate that. Sometimes it can go a bit too positive. We want to be positive, but in the right manner.
“I felt all right in Mohali. I know it was a crap way to get out, but it was just the execution in both innings. I’m not too down about it. In the second innings, I was going to go over the top. I just wanted to send one of the guys back on to the boundary, but I didn’t execute it well.”
His praise for Rashid is as warm as it genuine. Recognising both the contribution of England’s spin consultant, Saqlain Mushtaq, and the benefits of playing more regularly, Moeen even started to make a case for Rashid’s inclusion ahead of his own.
“He’s a quality spinner,” Moeen said. “He’s obviously bowling really well, and I’m really happy for him. He deserves it and I think his confidence is going to grow, the more he plays.
“Saqlain has been brilliant for both of us – the confidence he gives us both – and Adil’s confidence has definitely grown as a bowler.
“The three back-to-back games were good for him, because he’s got into a rhythm, and now he just comes out, doesn’t think about it too much and lands it on a spot pretty much straightaway.
“They’ve played him quite well, but he’s picking up wickets. He’s bowling really, really well. Is he snapping at my heels? Yes. It’s just a matter of time, really.”
For most cricketers such a situation might create some unease. But Moeen, speaking after meeting a group of young female athletes from under-privileged families in his role as an ambassador for the British Asian Trust, has a refreshing sense of perspective over such matters.
“Pressure to me is people who can’t afford food or who are struggling to live,” he says. “This is just a game of cricket. I’ll give it my best shot. But if I don’t play well, I don’t play well. There’s no point not sleeping at night over it.
“These under-privileged people… it puts everything in perspective, doesn’t it? This is just a game of cricket. You give your best, but that’s all you can do. Pressure is to survive in certain areas. There’s more to life than bat and ball.”
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo
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Source: ESPN Crickinfo