Moeen Ali’s performance against India in a tense, tight and tenacious fourth test spoke volumes of his character.
It’s no surprise to recall that Ali knew that he should’ve been dropped earlier than he actually was against New Zealand in what became a disastrous tour in the southern hemisphere.
Self-responsibility and knowing your limits are rare to find in an egotistic and self-reactionary sporting sphere. But Moeen Ali’s brilliant bowling completed the tale of a courageous comeback.
This time it was out. The review was wasted. This time Moeen Ali had his man.
Quite simply the English equation became a matter of creating the best formula to dismiss Virat Kohli, arguably the best batsman on the planet. And one with a rugged attitude in captaincy not seen since Ricky Ponting donned the baggy green cap.
On the stroke of the tea-break, Kohli staggered off. Continually looking back in utter disbelief that the ball from Ali turned so much.Spinning towards the outside edge of the bat into the mid-drift of Alastair Cook at short leg.
The rest followed with Ali the catalyst for collapse. Rishabh Pant punted it, but unfortunately for India’s wicketkeeper, the ball had enough time to wave him off as it dropped from Southampton’s clear blue sky into Cook’s safe hands.
Then it was the case of deja vu. Ajinkya Rahane certainly spent enough time at the crease with Kohli to work out how he was dismissed. Yet decided to play a similar shot and got trapped LBW. Mohammad Shami then lofted one in the air, a near mirror image of Pant’s poor judgement.
Ali didn’t care though. The smiling assassin finished with figures of 9-134. And back in March, you’d never have imagined that’d happen.
From Ashes To Ashes
As Steve Smith entered into the three-figure territory yet again, England‘s first choice spinner cut a forlorn figure with the ball in his hand. Of course, the dogged desire to produce the perfect delivery existed at nearly every opportunity. But expectation failed to mirror reality.
Words of encouragement echoed from Jonny Bairstow behind the stumps and Joe Root at first slip. The sound of the stumps crashing to the floor didn’t.
Look at the stats and you’d find that Ali’s three lowest degrees of spinning games all appeared in Australia. In Perth, Melbourne and Brisbane. Where Ali turned the kookaburra ball less than Root. With an average of 19, the batting didn’t do him or England any favours and it soon became when than if Ali would be dropped.
Nightmare In New Zealand
An Auckland test match is difficult enough but when you collapse to 58 all out it doesn’t help the cause to say the least. This was the case when England travelled to New Zealand’s capital city in March. Losing by an innings and 49 runs in a quite frankly hapless and hopeless display.
Ali had played in England’s last 43 tests up to this point but no wickets and scores of 0 and 28 somewhat made deselection inevitable. Following five wickets for an average of 115 runs in the near whitewash in Australia, Ali knew deep down that he had underperformed.
Now Ali has admitted that he let down his team-mates and fans. A sincere moment of self-reflection that should be admired.
And county cricket helped him regain the form which took him to a hat-trick against South Africa last year.
The Worcestershire Wonder
Down at Scarborough Worcestershire coach Kevin Sharp had good reason to advocate an England recall for Ali. As captain of the Pears, the all-rounder opened up the batting and posted first innings of 219 in combination with match figures of 8-89 with the ball.
In doing so Ali became only the second Worcestershire player to have scored a double hundred and taken five wickets in an innings in the same Championship match since Ted Arnold. In 1909. Records like that proved that beyond the cheeky smile stood rugged resistance to combine a patient persona and bullish attitude in powering up and down the crease with bat and ball.
Ali’s performance against India was not a surprise. A return like that told a tale of a 31-year-old who knew that ambiguity around his ability had to evaporate.
Ball after ball the critics stood still. Yes, Ali conceded a great swathe of runs that he usually does but he will be the first to admit that he is no Graeme Swann or Jim Laker. What was most impressive was a mental strength to match that of Kohli. Creating an aura at the crease with a nothing to lose attitude and underlying confidence.
Now with the final test and a tour in Sri Lanka Ali has a wonderful opportunity to establish himself as England’s first-choice spinner even at that age.
The question is can he continue this consistency?