Originally published 13 April, 2014 in DeepExtraCover
For Moeen Ali, 26, this has been a winter of pre-eminence. Walking into his native soil of New Road after playing in front of vociferous crowds in Bangladesh must have felt like bit under-whelming but there are no signs of a new found swagger. He is still the same down to earth man who pleased the cultured spectators at New Road with his wristy cuts and powerful pulls.
“I enjoyed it a lot. It would have been nice had we gone further. But we performed well. Overall, I really enjoyed it” recollects Moeen about the ICC World T20 where he featured in every game. A tournament which started in champagne fashion, but departed with a congested fade for him. Those pulls over midwicket off Tim Southee and Corey Anderson meant he would quickly get into oppositions’ counter plans.
In simple terms, he was in touch. Did he feel despondent having not made the most of it? “Definitely. You always feel you want to do better. Even if I did well, I would still feel I want to do better. Last few games I couldn’t score many runs but things like that happen in Cricket.”
The greenery of Worcestershire has been Moeen’s home since 2007. With loyalty ingrained, it’s no wonder folks at New Road believe he’s the closest thing they have ever come to Graeme Hick. His words justify the closeness. “I feel very comfortable and at home playing here. The surroundings, the people, the surface, all those ingredients make it a special place. I haven’t set any targets for the season. Trying to take one game at a time, score big guns and hopefully get into the test team.”
Test team. England whites. Any county cricketer’s dream. But unlike many, Moeen’s dream could become plausible this summer. He did that no harm in Sri Lanka with the English Lions. That was his first taste of England seniors, one which he savoured. “I have been to Bangladesh and Sri Lanka before. It was nice to be among the boys. I played well in the first game.”
His tweaks were hard to get away too. In that domain, does he regret being called up for the senior side for the shorter formats, when further roman candles could have ended in a maiden test? “No, I don’t think so. I showed the coaches in Sri Lanka that I’m good enough at that level. I was delighted to see myself being picked for England at that time.”
His role in a team can vary according to a situation. His all-round ability means he’s an asset to have. England is still searching for that elusive spinner who could at least partially cover the loss that Graeme Swann has left behind. To Moeen it doesn’t matter what void he is required to fill in. “I think it would be as a batsman who can bowl occasionally. Having said that, if they pick me I don’t care which role I’m playing. I just want to get in.”
Planting the foot back to the recent occurrences in ICC World T20, it’s conspicuous, the regret in his voice. “It was a shame. Against New Zealand we batted well. We were convinced we would have won that game, had it lasted the duration. Against South Africa, we lost by three runs. Disappointing really to lose by such a small margin but it’s the small mistakes that can cost a game. We can learn from them and hopefully next time we can go further.”
But what about the only game England won? “I was gutted when I got out as it put us in a precarious position. But that Alex Hales innings, I would take that any day of the week even though personally I failed. It’s about winning the game for the country. “
Moeen names Ravi Bopara and Chris Jordan as his best mates in the Three Lions environment and reveals he made lot of friends during the tournament. “Michael Lumb, Hales, Jos Buttler, there were many really good blokes to hang around with. I got on well with everybody.”
He has a special mention for Hashim Amla from the International teams. If he could be half as good as the prolific South Africa right-hander, it goes without saying that England’s top order is in safe hands for the foreseeable future.