Ben Jones analyses the Worcestershire’s captain’s place in international cricket.
Against Sri Lanka in the World Cup, Moeen Ali had the chance to take England home. He swept the ball to the boundary, then found the man at long-on. He was dropped from the XI.
Moeen had the chance to bowl England to victory on a dry, turning pitch at Edgbaston in the opening Ashes Test of the summer. He got the yips, went at 4rpo+, and was dropped from the XI.
This week, England’s central contracts were announced, and Moeen was no longer judged to be deserving of a red ball deal. It has not been a vintage few months for Moeen Ali.
Today, however, was going to be his moment. Or rather, it was meant to be.
Hitting two sixes off Matt Carter within moments of arriving at the crease announced how he was going to approach today, as a platform, a stage that he’s been largely denied this year. He’s watched on a lot this summer, whilst the teammates of the last four years have ridden the crest of a wave in the most high-profile cricketing summer since 2005, celebrating on the sidelines rather than in the middle. Even the most mild-mannered professional – who may well be Moeen himself – would struggle to contain a touch of jealousy.
He did everything he could to take Worcestershire to victory. Of all the players to face 10+ balls today, nobody scored faster than Moeen’s 9.08rpo. On a pitch where few found it easy to gain anything like fluency, he managed it. Two sixes off Matt Carter – who eventually snared him – were a demonstration of class that typically is decisive at this level. 4-35 from eight overs with the ball, darting the ball in and beating the bat, extracting the turn and bounce we’d come to expect in England colours before his dip in form. It was a performance of a man determined to have his moment of glory in a summer which has not, in truth, been short of it.
And yet this shouldn’t be a surprise. In the last three Blast seasons, Moeen Ali averages 53.76 with the bat whilst scoring at 10.40rpo; he’s combined that with an economy of 7.70 with the ball, and a strike rate of 15.5. For a prolonged period, he has dominated this competition. He’s lifted the trophy, reached two consecutive Finals Days, but on an individual level he’s excelled to the same extent.
In T20 cricket at the highest level, only a handful of players have scored more quickly than Moeen in the last few years. The presence of a few England-based players on the list below does rather call into question the standard of Blast bowling more generally, but Moeen has also played regularly in the Indian Premier League, doing well for RCB in the highest standard T20 league in the world. Whenever more has been asked of him as a T20 batsman, he’s delivered.
Moeen’s red ball career has never felt as fragile as it does right now. Without an international contract in Tests, stood at the beginning of an indefinite break from domestic red ball cricket, it is not an exaggeration to say we may never see him play in whites again. If a summer of potential T20 domination goes well, the temptation to specialise and further hone is already considerable skillset will be huge. Perhaps too huge to ignore.
And yet, in white ball cricket, Moeen has arguably never been more pivotal to England’s fortunes.
The T20 World Cup is 12 months away. England spent four years planning for their 50 over World Cup win; they have 12 months to plan for the T20 equivalent. They need to latch onto the core of their team quickly, and build around a few individuals. Those individuals should be Jos Buttler (opener and keeper), Eoin Morgan (as captain), Jofra Archer (strike and death bowler), and Moeen Ali.
England have a number of players capable of blasting away against pace at the top – Roy, Hales, Bairstow, and Buttler all have a claim on the opening berth – but they lack 360 hitting in the middle, particularly against spin. Morgan can provide this, undoubtedly, but Moeen is elite in this role. Since the start of 2017, the only player to face 100 balls of spin in the T20 middle overs and score quicker than Moeen, is Kamran Akmal.
Today could have been Moeen’s moment. The narrative tugged at you, inviting you to see the discarded maverick bringing home his team in the city of his birth, a homecoming in more than one sense. And yet, that would have felt like an ending, when in fact there is at least one more chapter to be written in the story of Moeen Ali’s career. In 12 months time, in Australia, as England’s campaign begins – that might be Mo’s moment.
Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.