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Moeen Ali: The fulcrum of England's transformation

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Moeen_Ali_England_CricketEngland have come a long way since their 2015 World Cup debacle. Those few months turned out to be a dark phase in English cricket, not unlike the one Australia are going through now. The team dynamics and playing style came under scrutiny, but the English selectors were quick to respond to the need of the hour. They included some young and unorthodox yet promising players into the squad at the expense of some under-performing veterans and that shook up the team dynamics completely, and helped change their approach to the game. Almost two years down the line today, the change is visible as England have once again emerged as one of the giants across all formats of the game.

However, there was one man who stood the test of all these changes to become the fulcrum of the present English side in all formats. He is none other than Moeen Ali, the ‘Man of the Match’ in the first Test match against India at Rajkot.

 

Ali never had a settled role in this England squad since he made his debut in national colors in February 2014. Although he was an out and out No.3 batsman for his county side Worcestershire, along with some part time off spin, England never gave him the stability he needed in the batting line-up. He made his Test debut six months after his first appearance in ODIs and has batted in as many as seven different batting positions in his 33 Tests so far. He never had the chance to play freely as he had to prove himself again and again in new roles according to each of his new positions.

As his career progressed, his abilities with the ball also came to fore as he emerged as a wicket-taking bowler for England. His 91 scalps in Tests speak much in favor of him as a spin-bowling all-rounder. It was this ability with the ball and his ability to contribute with the bat anywhere in the batting order that made him a first team regular for England in all three formats.

Sometimes he opened the innings, sometimes he batted in the middle and sometimes he batted as low as No. 9. But whenever he was given a chance higher up the order, he didn’t disappoint. Both of his ODI centuries came batting at the top of the order. His highest ODI score of 124 which came while opening the batting against Scotland in the 2015 World Cup, and helped them win the match, might well be the only good memory that England has from that disastrous campaign.

He also showed his potential in Tests quite early in his career as he scored his maiden Test century in just his second match. But England seemed to be comfortable with him playing the role of a regular spinner and a batsman who could bat at any position as per the current requirements of the team.

 

Any player would have felt frustrated, tired and unwanted in the team with this constant switching of roles. But Ali remained positive and kept playing the role his team needed him to with determination. Finally when he was given a chance to bat at the lower middle order during the Sri Lanka series at home, he grabbed it with both hands.

Ali now has three centuries to his name and averages over 50 in Tests played in 2016. His scores of 155* and 108 against Sri Lanka and Pakistan respectively at home gave him immense confidence as he rescued his team from trouble in both those innings. And we must not forget: his innings of 68 against Bangladesh on a turning track helped England win the match which otherwise seemed lost. Moreover, he has bettered his reputation as a batsman scoring a century against the No.1 Test team of the World at Rajkot recently.

Ali has also improved in leaps and bounds as a spinner, as could be seen from the Bangladesh tour where he picked up 11 wickets from two Test matches, including a five-wicket haul. He varies his pace a lot now-a-days, which is an important attribute for any world-class spinner. Skipper Alastair Cook lamented the absence of a World-class spinner in their team after they lost the last Test match against Bangladesh and said that they have to use the resources they have as effectively as they can.

Ali knows that at 29 years of age, he is far from becoming a world class bowler. He is not like Graeme Swann. Yet he can try to be one, and in the process hopefully produce some fruitful results for himself and his team. Things are falling in place for him slowly and with legendary Pakistani off-spinner Saqlain Mushtaq in charge as England’s spin bowling consultant, Ali can definitely learn a lot and add a few tricks to his armory.

Ali has already made a statement from the very first match of this tour of India. He is a top performer with both bat and ball. In only a couple of years of his career, he has already become the pivot of both the batting and bowling departments of this new look English team. The fact that he is one of the better players of spin in the England team makes him a valuable asset in any playing conditions. And with the ball he is slowly emerging to be their frontline spinner as well.

He is the glue that holds this England team together and will continue to play a vital role for them in the coming time ahead.

 

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Prasenjit, a techie by profession and Sports writer by passion, hails from the 'City of Joy'-Kolkat...

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