Forget the cool dude image, forget his nonchalant charm, forget his gorgeous batting (this isn’t about aesthetics), and forget the dismissive “he’s a batsman who bowls a bit” label. It’s about time we looked at Moeen the bowler in terms of results. Is Mo a test class spinner? Is he worth his place in the side?
The second question might seem unfair considering his exploits at Lord’s and his hat-trick at The Oval. But let’s not forget that many people want England to invest in a ‘specialist’ spinner. Is an all-rounder who bowls spin really sufficient?
Having done some digging through the history books (or rather Cricinfo’s Stats Guru) I believe the latter question can be answered with an unequivocal “yes”.
Why? Because even if you crave a specialist spinner – let’s say someone like a Monty Panesar, John Emburey, or Phil Tufnell – the fact is that Mo’s test average is better than most of the so called specialists England have picked in recent years anyway.
After playing 40 test matches, which I’m sure you’ll agree is a fair sample, Moeen averages 38 with the ball. That might not be particularly brilliant but it’s not bad either when you compare him to much admired twirlers like Monty, Embers and Tuffers.
It might come as something of a surprise, but Mo currently has exactly the same test match average as Emburey and Tufnell (38), and he’s only just behind Monty (35) and Robert Croft (37).
What’s more, he’s statistically better than Ashley Giles, who people remember affectionately as the ultimate team man. Gilo averaged 41 with the ball and 21 with the bat. Mo’s statistics (particularly with the bat) are much better.
Considering that England have had so many poor test spinners over the years – or perhaps I should say spinners who didn’t quite live up to expectations – I reckon Mo is doing pretty well. He’s certainly done better than Adil Rashid (43) Shaun Udal (43), Gareth Batty (61), Richard Dawson (62), and poor old Ian Salisbury (77).
One might argue, having digested those figures, that Moeen is worth his place as a bowler even if you take his batting out of the equation – especially when one considers that his record in England is very respectable indeed (70 wickets at a very handy 34).
You could even argue assertively that Moeen is the most effective all-rounder England possess in home conditions, regardless of the pace he bowls. Here’s a stat that might raise your eyebrow, a la Roger Moore.
Moeen Ali (In England) Batting Average 39, Bowling Average 34
Ben Stokes (in England) Batting Average 30, Bowling Average 38.
I bet you didn’t expect that. Remind me which one is the most highly rated and expensive all-rounder in world cricket again?
Although Stokes has obviously done better than Mo overseas – the odd double hundred at Newlands can boost one’s statistics quite nicely – their career records overall are very similar.
Stokes averages 34 with both bat and ball in test cricket, whereas Mo averages 34 with the bat and 38 with the ball. However, it’s worth remembering that Moeen has batted all over the place (and often as low as 8 in the order). This clearly gives Stokes an advantage.
However, let’s return to the comparison with spinners. Inevitably whenever England pick a new slow bowler comparisons with Graeme Swann are made. How can they not? Swann was, after all, the only world class spinner we’ve had since (arguably) Phil Edmonds. However, Mo isn’t doing that badly compared to Swann or Edmonds either.
Swann 255 test wickets at 30
Edmonds 125 test wickets at 34
I admit that these averages, particularly Swann’s, are better than Moeen’s, but let’s not forget Mo’s prowess with the bat. Both Swann and Edmonds were called upon to score lower order runs (sometimes at No.8) and managed career averages of 22 and 18 respectively. Mo’s average of 34 with five centuries and ten fifties is obviously a massive bonus.
One could even argue, albeit subjectively, that Mo makes a bigger contribution to the team than Swann. They’re a similar standard in terms of fielding, Swann averages 8 less with the ball but 12 less with the bat. It’s pretty close.
Mo’s strike rate is also incredibly similar to Swann’s. Moeen takes a wicket every 61 balls compared to Swann’s 60. It’s interesting that Monty’s strike rate was just 75. Shane Warne, arguably the greatest spinner of all time, had a strike rate of 57 – not much better than Moeen. It’s amazing when you think about it.
Obviously I’ve mentioned Moeen’s career statistics in England as being particularly interesting – after all, England play half their test matches at home (and Mo has been particularly good in Blighty with an average of 39 with the bat and 34 with ball). However, highlighting this strength also inadvertently emphasises Mo’s achilles heel: his bowling abroad.
With the exception of Bangladesh, where Mo has taken 11 wickets at an impressive average of 23, his bowling hasn’t travelled well at all. He was disappointing in India, poor in South Africa, and ineffective in the UAE.
Many will argue, quite rightly, that overseas is where England need a world class spinner most. After all, our seamers aren’t always effective when the weather’s hotter and the pitches are different in character.
However, I still think this is something that Mo can put right. Sometimes we forget that he really was a part-timer when he first played for England. And we forget that he’s often learning on the job – something that’s hard to do in foreign and unfamiliar surroundings. Is it really surprising that Mo couldn’t find the right pace at which to bowl in India?
The good news, however, is that Mo does have ability as a bowler. He puts a decent amount of revs on the ball and his action is basically sound. He even gets a little bit of loop when his confidence is high. Therefore, there’s no reason why Mo can’t mature into a good test bowler in all conditions in time. There might be a few bumps along the way, but there were bumps with the likes of Panesar and Tufnell too.
Overall Mo is currently doing a good job as England’s frontline spinner. Sometimes it’s easy to get greedy, and to pine for another Swann, but the truth is that orthodox finger spinners are rarely that effective in test cricket. Tim May, who is probably the second best off-spinner I’ve seen in recent times, averaged 34 in test cricket. That’s not too different from Mo. And most teams would kill for a Tim May.
So next time you feel like criticising Moeen – don’t worry we’ve all done it – remember to place his career in context. Think about where he’s come from, the overall contribution he makes to the team, and thank the Lord that we don’t have to pick guys like Salisbury anymore.
Oh and did I mention that he’s an absolute dude?