Mo? No

I’m going to hate writing every single word of this article. Why? Because I love Moeen Ali. As a Worcestershire fan I’ve seen him develop from a promising youngster into a fully fledged international player. And he’s great to watch. I’ve always been a sucker for elegant cricketers.

However, no matter how much I ask my heart to conquer my head, I simply do not agree that England should recall Moeen Ali to the Test team – even though he’s now ready to return. Here’s why …

The current narrative is that Moeen is an excellent international cricketer who only really lost form (and was dropped) because he wasn’t enjoying his cricket last year.

“I didn’t feel as valued as much as I felt I should have been. I had to get myself up for the Ashes and I remember bowling thinking, ‘I do not want to be here’ … it definitely affected me. I can see when I look back that my body language was horrendous throughout the game … it was almost like there was no interest … and the harder I tried the worse I got. It was so bad.”

Whilst I feel for Mo – England’s cricketers play far too much and the ECB don’t give two hoots about player welfare – his predicament last year doesn’t change his subpar record in previous years. And, if we look at the stats, his performances over 60 Test matches simply haven’t been good enough as either a bowler or a batsman.

Here are the headline stats … Mo the off-spinner averages 37 with an economy rate of 3.6. Economy rate is important, remember, because slow bowlers are often expected to do a holding role in the first innings and let the seamers rotate at the other end.

Compare this with much maligned Jack Leach, who some supporters couldn’t wait to get out of the side after one bad Test in New Zealand. In his first ten Test matches Leach averages 29, an economy rate of 2.9, and an identical strike rate to Mo (who is often portrayed as a ‘wicket-taker’)

Moeen’s record in individual countries also betrays his bothersome inconsistency. He averages 65 in India, 49 in South Africa, 49 in the UAE, and a whopping 115 in Australia. His records in the West Indies, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh (i.e. the weaker teams) is good. However, England’s next two marquee tours are to India and Australia. That doesn’t bode well.

One argument in favour of Mo is that his record in England, where we obviously play the most Test matches, isn’t bad at all. He averages 32.5 at home – very handy statistics for a spinner on our seamer-friendly surfaces. But even then there’s a but. His economy rate of 3.8 at home is far too high. In fact, he’s less economical in England than anywhere else in the world except the UAE.

The bottom line is this. It’s incredibly fanciful to expect Moeen to suddenly change into the consistent spinner we all want him to be. He’ll be 33 next summer and he hasn’t really improved. After a successful first year in Test cricket his average worsened every year in the subsequent three years. Although he’s done well in patches, two of his worst years as a Test spinner occurred in 2017/18 and 2019. Why is he suddenly going to turn into a world class spinner after a few months off playing in white ball events?

As someone who was highly encouraged by the performances of Dom Bess in South Africa – he looks like a natural spin bowler with a spinner’s brain who has improved significantly in a short space of time – I think it would be an incredibly backward step to return to Mo. Yes he’s one of the guys and the other players seem to like him. But amiability isn’t enough – especially when a younger replacement (who can also bat) is in situ and doing well.

It would also be foolish to recall Mo if it’s going to hinder the development of Leach, who currently has a lower Test average than Graeme Swann. England need to focus on developing these two young spinners rather than going back to a man who has had numerous opportunities in the past. If England had dropped Moeen every time he had a bad game, the brutal reality is that he wouldn’t have strung more than three or four consecutive appearances together.

Mo the batsman is a slightly different animal. He’s been messed around like a prince’s dogsbody. In fact, he’s batted in every single position in the batting order from No.1 to No.9. Surely this is some kind of record? It must have been incredibly unsettling for him.

Having said that, Moeen has still played many, many Tests in what most would consider to be his best position(s) – No.6, No.7, and No.8. Here’s how he’s fared:

No.6 – 12 Tests, average 22

No.7 – 20 Tests, average 37

No.8 – 19 Tests, average 27

Although he’s done pretty well at No.7 his overall record is still poorish. He’s great to watch, and when he comes off it’s glorious, but this doesn’t happen regularly enough to warrant a recall. What’s more, he’ll always be vulnerable against the short ball so Australia will be licking their lips.

An interesting comparison is Jos Buttler. England’s keeper, who many would like to see out of the side, averages 40 at No.6, 31 at No.7, and 28 at No.8. If Buttler isn’t good enough (or consistent enough) then how does one describe Mo?

Just like Moeen the bowler, Moeen the batsman rarely travels well either. He averages 20 down under, 23 In Bangladesh, 14 in New Zealand, 29 in South Africa, 13 in Sri Lanka, 14 in the UAE, and 18 in the West Indies. The only place he’s batted well abroad is India. These returns are what you’d expect from a tail-ender not a batsman with Moeen’s natural talent and flamboyance.

Consequently, much as I have a soft spot for Mo, there’s no logical reason to recall him to the Test side. I can see him being a useful stop-gap in Sri Lanka (as a third spinner) but even then it wouldn’t be a particularly progressive selection. Bess should play, Leach should play, so in an ideal world the 3rd spinner should provide something different. There’s little point picking two specialist off-spinners when you’ve also got Joe Root capable of providing part-time support. A spin attack of Leach (left arm), then Bess, Moeen, and Root (all right-arm off-spinners) doesn’t look particularly balanced. It would make more sense to include a leggie rather than Mo.

For some reason cricketers always seem to be better players when they’re not in the side. It’s a strange quirk of perception. Maybe it’s because people forget the bad times and only remember the good? I really don’t know. But it’s particularly true of Moeen Ali.

If the benchmark of good all-rounder is one who averages more with the bat than they do with the ball, then Moeen is a long way off what’s required at Test level. He averages a underwhelming 37 with the ball and a humble 29 with the bat. It’s just not particularly good.

Yes Mo has some good excuses. Injuries have occasionally hindered his bowling overseas, and he’s been moved around the order far too much for my liking. But at nearly 33 years of age it’s time for England to say “thanks for the memories” and move on.

I’ve enjoyed Mo’s Test career and he can clearly hold his head up high as a mercurial player who entertained the galleries and brought a lot of joy to supporters’ hearts. But equally I associate him with a subpar period in English Test history (2014 to 2019) in which the team was too erratic, under-achieved, and never really made any progress. We can’t pin all of this on Moeen, of course, but if you pick inconsistent cricketers then you’ll probably end up with inconsistent results.

England’s win in South Africa, under a new coach who encourages a more traditional approach than Trevor Bayliss’s uber-aggressive style, feels like the beginning of something new. There are several new faces, most of whom have performed consistently in the championship, and it’s actually quite promising.

So why go back? When it comes to Mo, it’s a firm ‘no’ from me.

James Morgan


  • Agree with this. There are a number of young spinners with varying levels of experience now appearing on the radar, Bess looks established and if Leach returns to full fitness he too is ahead of Moeen for test consideration by the proverbial country mile.Also, one of the few English successes at the U19 world cup was Lewis Goldsworthy, who finished the tournament with a five-for against Sri Lanka, and who is also a useful middle order bat. Moeen averages 28.97 with the bat and 36.59 with the ball – the reverse of an all-rounder, someone who is demonstrably inadequate in both departments. In addition to Leach and Bess I would definitely have Parkinson and Virdi ahead of Moeen in my personal pecking order, and would probably prefer an out-and-out gamble on Patterson-White or the youngster Goldsworthy to reverting to him.

  • Ditto agree with it all. South Africa felt like new horizons. Why turn back to counter progressive selection. Surely we have learned from the ‘ballance’ lessons..?

  • Agree with all of this. We have all seen some thrilling performances from Mo with bat and ball. But also many embarrassing ones. There is too much evidence that the basics are not sound enough. The original premise was that he was a batsman who could upgrade his bowling by getting more revs on the ball, thus replicating Swann’s strike rate, if not his control of the scoreboard. Didn’t work out.

    Retrograde move to bring him back. Not really sure why he is on SA now, even in white-ball cricket.

    • Thanks. Actually I don’t mind Moeen playing white ball at all because he’s usually economical and reliable in ODIs. Oddly enough though, he doesn’t take many wickets! Kind of the reverse of his Test career.

  • There is also the point – “I’ll play for England, but only when I feel like it”. What a way to treat the ultimate UK cricketing honour. And yes, I do remember Sir Geoffrey making himself unavailable.

  • England won in Sri Lanka just over a year ago playing 3 spinners. Unless there’s an argument that that was wrong, or that there are reasons why a different balance now makes more sense on those pitches, then it surely makes sense to go with 3 spinners again this time.

    And if you’re planning on playing 3 spinners, you should take a 4th in the squad.

    So the relevant question is: “Could Moeen Ali be among England’s best 4 spinners?”. Which is a very different question from “Is Moeen Ali England’s main spinner?”

    I think it’s worth taking him to Sri Lanka, but that he probably won’t be needed after that

    • This is an important point imo. If Rashid is available, and Leach’s fitness is 100%, I don’t particularly have an issue with letting Mo focus on T20 with a potential debutant in Parkinson/Virdi touring as a 4th spinner.

      But, given the question marks over those two, I’m not sure England can afford to leave out their most experienced spinner, even if he’s only there as cover.

      Most of England’s issues this winter have come from picking squad players who aren’t good enough for the role they need to cover (Crawley batting out of position in NZ, Pope keeping, Bairstow as a specialist batsman without fixing his technique, Parkinson taken on work experience but not trusted to play). Neither Moeen nor Jennings would make my XI, but *in Sri Lanka* they’re the best equipped to come into the side in their roles if there’s an injury, so should both tour

  • I’m not a great fan but I would concede that Ali has been unfortunate to play at a time when his best positions in the team (Nos. 5, 6 or 7) have had plenty of contenders. There’s no real change in that now with Stokes and Pope bedded in at 5 and 6 and the keeper at 7. That’s unless as soon as Pope has succeeded they’re planning on shunting him about the order which wouldn’t be too out of character.

    I have some sympathy with his complaints about burn-out. However the five years he spent earning a million quid a year somewhat temper that. He’s been extremely well renumerated.

    Ali hasn’t helped his cause by allowing some articles to appear under his name that have been rather petulant and thin-skinned. Contrary to being the first to be blamed as he claimed, I can’t think of many players of been given an easier ride in the media (until the very end when his returns thoroughly justified any criticism). If he wants to see what it’s like to be on the receiving end of real media hostility, he should ask Rashid or Compton (or even Archer).

    What happened to the PSL contract it was reported he had signed?

  • What about Amir Virdi as a 4th spinner? On a county level superior to Bess and on par with Leach. Either that or go for a league for variety.I
    I agree with Moen not going though.
    Players play too much? Not sure about that and as said above extremely well paid. It seems to me players of the past played far more with 22ish 3 day championship games often back to back followed by a test. More recently Gooch used to finish a 5 day test then play for Essex the next day. If anything too much “resting” these days and injuries.

  • Sympathise with you about Moin being a great cricketer to watch, James, but as you say at 33 can he change his spots enough to effective at test level, or even play a particular role. With Root now establishing himself as more than just a buy a wicket bowler another off spinner to support Bess is not really needed. We’ve seen a glut of experienced white ball cricketers such as Roy, Buttler and Bairstow all fail to adapt to the demenads of red ball, so why should Moin be different. We seem at last under Silverwood to be getting away from bits and pieces men, so let’s keep going in that direction.
    By the by saw an interesting interview with Eoin Morgan about running out batsmen backing up, On the back of a couple of recent instances in under 19 internationals. He said he would not even appeal if a bowler did this in his team, whatever the circumstances. Not sure I totally agree, as if a batsman is consistently trying to steal yards this way and fails to respond to a polite warning of the potential consequences if he continues to do so, there seems to be no alternative to me. However just doing it out of the blue, like what happened in the under 19’s is I feel unsportsmanlike. Interesting to hear fellow bloggers views on this as I’ve come across it a few times in club cricket and it has always left a bad taste between the teams. Normally a bowler will feign to whip the bails off as give the batsman a knowing look, so he understands next time will be for real.

    • What’s the difference between stealing yards and appealing every time it hits the pads regardless to where it’s pitched, whether it’s hitting the stumps or the batsmen has hit it.. oh nd when you’re not the bowler or keeper (so can’t actually see)..

      What about beteeen stealing Yards and sledging..

      Or stealing yards and claiming a catch when you know it may or did have hit the floor

      • It’s about ignoring warnings given by the bowler backed up by the umpire. It’s called the spirit of the game. In club cricket there used to be an etiquette about this which is now, thanks to the likes of Rabada copycats, disappearing. The win at all costs mentality has infiltrated the amateur game.
        If you are warned by the umpire about sledging you should stop of at least take note of the particular type of insults you dish out. Similarly with over appealing. If the umpire warns you and you choose to ignore it you can still be taken off, in the same way as ignoring warnings about persistent short pitched bowling and running on the pitch.
        So essentially as you say there’s little difference, it’s all gamesmanship and a matter of degree. Cricket has always prided itself on the spirit of the game. Watch football to see how a game looks devoid of this. Petulant and disrespectful to the core. Every decision a matter for debate. In cricket if you ignore this spirit and come into conflict with the umpire there’s only one winner.

  • Mo really is one of cricket’s nice guys. Perhaps too nice in the sense of having complied with England’s wishes and slotting into whatever batting position requested of him. I am pretty much resigned to seeing him only at New Road (should the ground ever be fit for cricket again), where he is loved and hugely admired. And boy, do we need a player of his calibre to try and reclaim Division One status and repeat out T20 success.
    As it happens I’m not over-enamoured with many England spinners at the moment, possibly because the England team management seems unsure what to do with them.
    So I’m drawing a line under Mo’s Test and possibly lnternational OD career. I hope he finds peace in his remaining playing days and scores lots of runs and grabs loads of wickets for people who appreciate him.

  • Why is it that players assume when they say “I’m now ready to play Internationals again” they will be slotted back in? It’s not up to them to pick and choose when they are “ready”. At the end of the day they are very well paid entertainers, and should remember that.


copywriter copywriting