CricViz analyst Ben Jones profiles Moeen Ali.
An off-spinning all-rounder, Moeen Ali broke into the England team in the aftermath of England’s five-nil whitewash on their last tour of Australia and made his debut at Lord’s against Sri Lanka in June 2014. At domestic level Moeen made his name as a stylish top-order player but won selection to the England team thanks largely to his ability as a spinner with England looking to replace Graeme Swann. Moeen’s bowling has improved hugely while playing at Test level and he is now England’s undisputed number one spinner. His ability with the bat if often underrated, largely because he is batting lower down the order for England than he would at domestic level. However batting as low as he does has allowed his attacking instincts to take over and he has become a hugely successful and very dangerous player, capable of playing long innings but also counter-attacking.
Moeen’s greatest strength is his versatility to adapt his method according to the situation. Having played as a top order batsman in county cricket Moeen has learned his trade against the moving new ball but his natural game is to attack. The product of such a combination is a wonderfully rounded player and it is no coincidence that he has batted in every position from 1 to 10 for England in Test cricket. Moeen has a solid defence – dismissed once every 110 shots when he is defending (global average 74.32), averages 47.33 when playing rotating shots (global average 41.67) and 45.45 when playing attacking shots (global average 47.26). Moeen’s intent is largely informed by his role as a lower-order batsman who often bats with the tail. As such Moeen attacks 27% of deliveries (global average 24%) and only rotates 22% (global average 28%) – this can be interpreted as him looking to score quickly and farming the strike.
Against pace Moeen displays a preference for full bowling – averaging 46.40 and scoring at 5.12 runs per over against balls pitched fuller than six metres from his stumps which can be traced back to supple wrists and averages of 116.00 when flicking the ball and 75.00 when working the ball. Although he has a reputation for being a good driver it seems this is grounded more in aesthetics than statistics: he averages only 34.69 with the shot against pace. It is widely thought that Moeen struggles against the short ball and this is supported by data which shows him to average 27.85 against bouncers and is illustrated in the Dismissal Heatmap. This may be in-part explained by his intent against short balls which shows him to play a pull or a hook to them 28% of the time (global average 22%). When playing the pull or the hook he only averages 30.25 (global average 39.48%).
Moeen averages 36.85 against spin – fractionally more than his 34.88 against pace. Against spin Moeen a busy player which is in evidence in a very high rotating shot percentage of 45% (global average 29%). He generally looks to get forward, playing off the front foot or coming down the pitch 79% of the time (global average 73%) and favours the leg side, scoring 65% of his runs on that side of the wicket (global average 55%). Moeen is a keen sweeper, playing a version of the shot 11% of the time against spin (global average 5%), however he only averages 27.00 when doing so (global average 34.47%). This apparent contradiction embodies Moeen’s approach of high-risk, high-reward batting.
Moeen’s attacking nature will give Australia’s bowlers chances but could also bring quick runs. The key for Australia will be finding the right balance between attack and defence. An average of 27.85 against bouncers certainly gives Australia reason to attack Moeen with the short ball but given that he is not afraid of pulling and hooking that is a tactic which they should be wary of over-using – it is also a tactic that on bouncy Australian pitches he will be expecting. Moeen’s average of 46.40 against full balls should dissuade Australia from bowling full often, however an average of 35.85 against half volleys and 34.69 when driving suggests he can be loose against pitched up deliveries. Australia could be well-served mixing short deliveries with fuller ones and seeing if they can get his feet stuck in his crease and catch him leaning back on the drive. To restrict Moeen’s scoring the best length to bowl is that in-between length between six and eight metres from his stumps and keep the line really tight, offering him no room to throw his hands through the ball.
When it comes to the battle of the off-spinners, the key for Nathan Lyon is maintaining a tight line. To off-break deliveries pitching in line with stumps, Moeen averages just 16.66, being dismissed six times. However, the challenge for Lyon will be to maintain this very specific line, because against deliveries in the channel outside off Moeen averages 94.33, so Lyon will be need to be at his accurate best.
Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz. @benjones_13