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England's new magician

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Moeen_Ali_England_CricketI remember watching the Friends Provident T20 on TV a few years back. A long bearded man was at the non-striker’s end and I assumed it was Hashim Amla. When he went on strike, he took a middle-stump guard and started to bat left-handed. That's when I realized that it was not Hashim Amla, but a left-hander who can be at his attacking best. His jersey read Ali.

The first ever cricketer to take 25 wickets and score 250 runs in a four-match Test series was roped in by Warwickshire as a 15-year-old. He had earlier scored an unbeaten 195 in an Under-15 T20 match. His progress was rapid, as he went on to score runs in a heap, which earned him a place in the 2006 U19 World Cup in Sri Lanka. He scored three half-centuries and had seven wickets to his name.

 

The lanky all-rounder had a tough time in his childhood days. After 9/11, Ali found himself in a tough place after being a target of racist remarks. He recalled that his dad suffered a lot during his earlier days. Cricket was his saving grace.

 

A daring man, Ali moved to Worcestershire. He had a poor debut, but he hung on and racked up some impressive performances which helped the side secure a promotion to the first division. He was overlooked by the England Lions and moved to Bangladesh to play club cricket under the advice of Shakib-al-Hasan, who was his teammate at Worcestershire.

Returning to Worcestershire, he was assigned to lead the side and had a few senior players in the likes of Vikram Solanki and Ben Scott to advise him. He was also teammates with Saeed Ajmal, who taught him how to bowl the doosra. Though it was ineffective, Ali had an arsenal of tricks up his sleeve and managed to be a talisman for his side.

He was finally called up by the England Lions and he grabbed the opportunity with both hands, scoring a half-century. In that season, he went on to score 1375 runs at an average of 62.50 and picked up 28 wickets which earned him the MVP award. He was also called up by the England development squad ahead of their Australian Ashes tour.

 

He made his International debut for England in 2014 when he opened the innings with Michael Lumb in an ODI against West Indies in the Caribbean. He had a decent outing, scoring 44 runs and picking up the wicket of Darren Bravo. His Test debut came a few months later. In his first innings, he fell two runs short of a half-century. In the next match, he scored a century in the fourth innings but saw his innings go in vain as Sri Lanka recorded a famous victory on English soil. 

 

But Ali had made his mark.

Though he was known for his batting skills, it was his off-spin that earned him a place in the side after the surprising decision from Graeme Swann to retire from all formats of the game. David Lloyd hails Moeen Ali's technique and feels that it's on the same level as Swann's. But Moeen Ali says that he's still a batsman.

“No matter how many wickets I get, I’m definitely always going to be a batter.”

When India defeated England at the Lord's, many fans wanted a change in the side. But Moeen Ali, showed his class, picking up 8 wickets in the match. He went on to torment the Indian batting lineup which is well known for its ability to play spin. Credit has to be given to umpire Kumar Dharmasena as well, who had a chat with Ali on how not to lose pace whilst bowling.

He played a crucial role in England's Ashes success at home, with his all-round performance. That cemented his spot in the playing XI. He didn't have a memorable tour in UAE when England toured for a three-match Test series against Pakistan. His unimpressive performances with both bat and ball had a say in England's 2-0 series loss.

He redeemed himself quickly, by picking a four-wicket haul in the first innings, before adding three more to his tally, as England defeated South Africa at Durban. He was awarded the Player of the Match for his impressive performance. Even though he wasn't consistently among the wickets that series, he helped the other bowlers as England went on to win the series 2-1.

 

His best innings for England came against Sri Lanka at Chester-le-Street, when he scored a blistering 155. He thwarted the Sri Lankan bowlers and his knock helped England take an unassailable 2-0 lead in the three-match test series. He was inconsistent in the initial stages of the series against Pakistan, where he didn't contribute much with the bat and ball. But he came back exceptionally well, scoring a fighting century in the fourth match. But, Younis Khan took the match away from England and helped his side level the series 2-2.

 

Much was expected of him in the tour to India. His secret lies with the fact that he was deceptively quick. Batsmen do not know whether to attack or defend against him. He uses that to his advantage and has been successful thus far. But, India dealt with him smartly. He scored a couple of centuries, in Rajkot and in Chennai, but couldn't help save his side from a 4-0 drubbing.

Ali credits his coach, Saqlain Mushtaq for his meteoric rise.

“He is brilliant with my mindset, just try to repeat the same thing as much as I can. Also with variations, he has found a few variations in my bowling which hopefully I can work on. He was obviously an amazing bowler. He is a lot like Saeed, probably got more knowledge. I’d love to have him for all games – T20s, one-dayers and Test matches,” says Ali.

In the recently concluded Test series against South Africa, Ali was in top form, ending the first Test with ten wickets to his name. Although he picked up four wickets in the first innings of the second Test, South Africa emerged as the winners. But he came back strongly and ended the third Test with a hat-trick as England won the match by 239 runs. He scored an unbeaten 75 and picked a fifer in the second innings as England drubbed South Africa by 177 runs to win the series 3-1. He was awarded the Man of the Match and Man of the Series for his exemplary performance. A devout Muslim, he walked away from the team as his teammates celebrated the victory with champagne. 

Ali has been a gift to the English Cricket and even if this is too early to say, Ali has been phenomenal and has made sure that England doesn't miss the services of Swann.

 

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