OLD TRAFFORD: Moeen Ali’s performance in taking six wickets during England’s first Test win in nearly a year has left national coach Peter Moores excited by the heights the offspinner could yet reach in international cricket. Ali’s second-innings return of six for 67 was instrumental in skittling India out for 178 as England won the third Test by 266 runs at Southampton on Thursday to level the five-match series at 1-1. His bowling display saw the 27-year-old Worcestershire allrounder, a practising Muslim, put to one side the controversy he had generated earlier in the match by wearing wristbands proclaiming ‘Save Gaza’ and ‘Free Palestine’.
Not that England coach Moores was surprised. “Moeen is a very level-headed bloke and that is one of his real strengths,” he said. “He stays calm under pressure. So he took it for what it was and moved on.” After offspinner Graeme Swann retired during England’s 5-0 Ashes thrashing in Australia, England decided this season to give Ali, primarily a batsman, a chance to stake his claim as their leading specialist slow bowler.
Often damned with the faint praise of being a ‘part-time’ offspinner, Ali has so far taken 15 wickets at an impressive average of 26.46 in the India series, with only England’s James Anderson (16 wickets) a more successful bowler so far in the first three Tests. “Test match cricket is about how rapidly people grow in it,” said Moores, now in his second spell as England coach. “He’s grown very quickly as a bowler and I hope that carries on. Mo is a very sensible lad. He knows he’s got to keep doing a lot of work.”
Ali had already proved his worth as a batsman, making a Test hundred at Headingley in June that so nearly saved the match and the series against Sri Lanka. And following his display at the Ageas Bowl, it seems his bowling will be treated with greater respect. “He keeps getting better,” said Moores. “That’s exciting, because you don’t know when he’s going to stop. “To get people like (Cheteshwar) Pujara and (Virat) Kohli out early on - they’re very high-class players of spin - that’s a very good sign for the future.”
His efforts in the third Test also demonstrated Ali’s ability not just to bowl conventional off-breaks but to utilise the variation of drifting the ball away from the right-handed batsman or towards left-handers. “Two things are essential for a top-flight spinner,” said Moores, a former wicketkeeper with county side Sussex. “He attacks both edges. He gets great drift and he turns the ball - he spins it hard. “Without those two things it’s very difficult - if you only attack one edge of the bat, the way people work you out is quite fast. “But because Mo creates this drift, I think he is a challenge for all batters.”
Moores, speaking ahead of the fourth Test at Old Trafford was buoyed by the way in which England had ended a run of 10 successive Tests without a win during a match where captain Alastair Cook returned to form with fifties in both innings. “I think one of the things we were trying to move away from is a mindset that’s more defensive, trying to hold on to things,” said Moores. “You’re trying to play cricket where you’re on the front foot and trying to put people under pressure, and that’s the conversation we had. “We are rebuilding, no doubt - and at times we will get things wrong. “But provided we have everybody totally committed and driving it forward, we will get to where we want to be.”
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