Mo’s The Man

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He’s not Graeme Swann. Hell, he’s not even Peter Such. But Moeen Ali is a complete dude. He bowled beautifully in both innings at Lord’s and richly deserved his man of the match award. England might not have won without him.

When Mo was first selected by England three years ago – probably because he was the least worst option available – I actually thought he had some potential as a spinner. He has a decent enough action, got a little dip and turn (albeit rarely much drift), and the Indian batsmen generally struggled against him. And we all know that Indians tend to play spin rather well.

However, until this last test match, Mo hadn’t really developed his bowling at all. He was almost like a poor man’s Monty Panesar: turning up and bowling exactly the same way whatever the conditions. And unfortunately that ‘way’ was rarely effective.

I don’t know if his MOM performance at Lord’s will change anything long term. Perhaps the bad Mo will soon resurface and this match-winning effort was an aberration? But this latest effort does prove that Mo has it in him.

The next time England are presented with a bunsen, and there’s an expectation that spin will win the game in the fourth innings, we finally have a bowler who can fulfil his brief. And that’s a big step forward for this particular England side. After all, unless a finger spinner is very special indeed, he’ll rarely win games in other conditions anyway.

I guess the big question is what inspired this huge performance. Was it (a) Bayliss’s decision to call him ‘the second spinner’ (which took the pressure off somewhat), (b) Joe Root’s captaincy (I think we all know that Cook never really trusted Moeen), or (c) the fact that South Africa just aren’t particularly good players of spin? Personally, I think it’s probably a combination of all three.

Key fact: despite all the criticism Mo has received in his England career, he’s now the second fastest England player ever to reach both 2,000 test runs and 100 wickets. Only Tony Greig has bettered him (and just by a single game). And yes, Mo has reached this landmark faster than both Flintoff and Botham. Ben Stokes is about to reach 2,000 test runs, but unless he takes 21 wickets in his next four games, he’ll achieve this landmark slower than Mo too.

The above statistic is certainly food for thought. I’m not suggesting that Moeen is better than the excellent cricketers above, but it does show how undervalued his contribution to English cricket has been.

Anyway, it’s time to wrap up this test match now. It was a superb win for England when you consider we were 80-4 at lunch on day one. Yes there are some negatives – the top three looks too samey and and we collapsed (again!) in the second innings – but performances are rarely perfect.

Overall this test was a huge boost for a team that got hammered in the winter. The captain scored runs which shows (at least for now) that the extra responsibilities aren’t affecting his batting, and everyone bowled pretty well too. The only real loser was Liam Dawson’s batting – he made two second ball ducks. Even Gary Ballance wasn’t completely terrible.

As for South Africa I’m not quite sure what to say. The only bright spot of their performance was their comeback with the ball on Sunday morning. And this was soon put into context by their second innings batting which showed that the pitch had deteriorated quite a lot.

Although I think the toss was probably too important in this game – would England have chased a total approaching 200 in the second innings in those conditions? – it’s hard to feel too much sympathy because Elgar’s team made too many mistakes. When the match situation is against you, it’s unacceptable to take wickets off no-balls and misuse DRS.

If South Africa had dismissed Joe Root early, and reviewed that Broad lbw, the outcome might well have been different. But these are all big ‘ifs’. And who’s to say that England wouldn’t have found a way to win regardless?

Where I do sympathise with South Africa, however, is the absence of Faf du Plessis, who is very much their leader, the premature retirement of AB de Villers, and the distraction caused by Rabada’s ban. I know opinions are mixed when it comes to Rabada’s various ‘code violations’, but my personal view changed when I saw just how innocuous his ‘collision’ with Sri Lanka’s Dickwella really was. Kagiso can consider himself very unlucky.

It will be interesting to see how much South Africa improve when their leader returns. One suspects he’ll have to make a lot of runs too. Hashim Amla looks short of form, and at 34 years of age he might be reaching Ian Bell territory, and JP Duminy is still a liability.

The batting of Bavuma, however, does offer a glimmer of hope. Although he doesn’t move his feet much, which might get him into trouble on different English surfaces, he generally looked very compact and composed. If some of South Africa’s stalwarts are on the decline, they’ll need players like Bavuma to grow up fast.

James Morgan

28 Comments

  1. For me, the only change I’d make would be to bring in a specialist ‘keeper and let Bairstow concentrate on batting. Ballance doesn’t do it for me, certainly not at number 3. So if Root want’s to stay at 4, bring in Butler, and let Bairstow take on the 3 role.

    • I don’t think that Buttler is necessarily a better keeper than Bairstow (though there’s not much in it), but surely he’s a better batsman than Ballance?

      What has Leach done to upset the selectors? His action has been cleared, hasn’t it? Has he slept with one (or more) of their wives?

  2. Moeen Ali said in advance that he’d be bowling differently in this match, because Joe Root had told him to try to take wickets.

    Which rather implies that Moeen could’ve been bowling like this in previous matches, but didn’t do because the previous captain had — incredibly — told him not to.

    So maybe Alistair Cook should also take some credit for England’s dominant win — if Moeen had routinely been getting wickets like this, expectations would’ve been higher and the victory wouldn’t’ve seemed so dramatic.

    Separately, I was very disappointed with the timing of the end of this match. The England v Australia Women’s World Cup match had a really exciting conclusion, with England eventually winning by just 3 runs. Normally, a test match would be sedate enough that you could switch away from it for a few overs and catch the end of the women’s game without missing much, but not in this case.

    The women didn’t have much control over when their game finished: it’s going to be when the 50 overs were up. But the men’s match could’ve been wrapped up any time on Sunday afternoon, or gone later into the evening, or even on to Monday, with the result being the same. At a time when women’s cricket would benefit from greater attention, it was thoughtless and selfish of the men to conclude their match at the same time as the women’s, depriving Heather Knight and team of much-needed coverage and publicity.

    • I think it just confirms that Cook was hopelessly timid in his use of spinners (& he would never have brought Ali on as early as Root did in the second innings).
      Spinners’ confidence is a more fragile thing than that of fast bowlers, and Cook always seemed to know how not to bolster it.

      Anyway, apparently it’s fine to be happy that he’s not captain any more, as he is too:
      http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/cricket/40559000

      • That’s not strictly accurate though. Cook opened with Mo twice and bowled him 1st change another 15 times. Surprisingly, it’s not always been in Asian conditions – 4 times in England, 3 time in South Africa and twice in West Indies.

        He had no problem with using Swann or Panesar extensively, but they were both experienced, fully fledged international spinners who both had excellent control. Mo’s problem (and Rashid’s) was that they rarely managed to build pressure, and Cook always liked to control run flow – he was a more conservative captain.

  3. Because of the nature of the pitch, I don’t think we have learnt more much about either side this match. The toss was key and had South Africa batted first we would not have won so easily. We had all the run of the ball all match, with dropped catches and no balls on top of that toss.
    Du Plessis return is key. I see them raising their game and being a real threat, though Rabada’s stupid ban doesn’t help the series. What if the ECB thinking? At this level it is par for the course, and has always been a major factor in test cricket. It is another classic example of the sanitising of TV sport, because kids are watching. Sticking microphones in front of sportsmen after a hard fought contest and castigating them if they use ‘improper ‘ language. Have you heard the language on a school playground ECB?!!! The duel between fast bowler andq batsmen, even at club level, is littered with expletives. No one there gives a rats arse even though the players families are watching. If there’s going to be any consistency a ban will now have to be enforced almost every game.
    What happened Sunday shows the fragility of both batting lineups, though Mohin bowled beautifully, and showed up Dawson’s limitations, especially as Maharaj got more out of the surface in less favourable conditions. Hopefully Anderson and Broad can come to the party at Trent Bridge and we can see a more even contest of bat and ball.

    • Cricketcricketcricket on

      Disagree. Many people at club level want to play cricket on a Saturday, enjoy their hobby, try to win but not get verbally abused in the process.

      There is no need to sledge or collide with anyone. Just play your cricket and whoever plays best on the day will win.

      Too many people think gobbling off makes you more competitive.. it doesn’t., there is a reason why poor discipline is being cited as a reason people leave the game

      • This is not a modern issue of contemporary morality. It has been prevalent in cricket since the game began. Gamesmanship is practiced at all levels, always has been, always will be. It is human nature to want to win, at whatever level games are played. Anyone who has played cricket at club level comes accross this every week. There is nothing personal involved and it is not practised by most, but every team has one or two at least who will sound off at the drop of a hat. This is reflected in everyday life. It is human nature to be frustrated by not getting your own way. Different people have different ways of showing this. I agree it does not necessarily make you more effective, but it does make you feel better at the time to effectively celebrate another’s misfortune. No bowler ever apologises for a getting a wicket, no batsmen apologises for hitting a boundary, and no fielder for taking a catch. On the contrary each of these are a cue for celebration. It is all part of the game of life, love it or hate it. You do not have to participate in it, but you cannot take it out of the game without sanitising competition. I agree there are times when limits of civilised behaviour are exceeded, but they are few and cricket has always managed to police itself pretty well.

        • Cricketcricketcricket on

          Celebrating a wicket is one thing, verbals etc is another. No one in their right mind doesn’t say celebrating a catch/wicket isn’t ok but it’s how you do it. There are no needs for send offs or loud yelling at or in front of the batter.. it achieves nothing.

          As for verbals, again.. no need. Serves no purpose for the game so cut it out as it’s not required to enhance the game

          As said, it doesn’t make any difference and isn’t a sign of being competitive. It’s just people thinking it’s ok to be rude to each other and get away with it. No need.

          I dont need telling I have yellow boots.. I don’t need to know that I’ve blocked five in a row.. I don’t need telling that I’m a fat lad.. I don’t need to know that the run rate is five an over .. keep it shut and just bowl, field or keep

      • ILoveMyDenham on

        Gobbing off. Gobbling off is something else, although probably not something people want to see at a cricket match.

        Entirely agree with your sentiment though.

  4. England’s much maligned all rounders had a good match and hopefully England will start to reap the investment in Cricketers who weren’t the full package when selected but have now got 30 Tests behind them.

    Worth checking out what Bayliss told Sky, its free on the skysports website about how they have selected Moeen as a batsmen who can bowl. Even after this I would still continue that and having Jonny Bairstow bat at five allowed England the extra player. It does mean there is space in the England team for a spinner. Not sure Dawson will be able to nail down that spot but if not then Leach could impress for the rest of the season as go to the Ashes

  5. Well done Moen. But I would not over egg the pudding here. The pitch developed into a real Bunsen, unusual for Lords, and most decent spinners would have got wickets on this. More interesting than a flat batting track though, and really tests the batman’s skills. Which is what a Test match should do.

  6. Eng. must get early runs on the board much more quickly.

    Ballance must go – bring in Northeast.

    Dawson nothing like test class – give Leach a go.

    Ali did bowl some good balls, but so he should on a very helpful pitch – I suspect Mick Hunt may be given a talking-to.

    Rub of the green definitely with England throughout.

    Pity about the media hype – all that happened is that Eng. beat a well below full strength SA team.

  7. It was a good, entertaining game with some memorable performances from the new captain and Ali.
    I worry that there are ‘papering over of cracks’ tho that will be highlighted in Australia.
    Root should have been out 3 times in his innings and SA dropped so many chances it was untrue. They made a hash of the DRS and had the misfortune to lose the toss too.
    Winning when playing badly is a good habit to get into but playing badly cannot become a habit.

  8. Good win for England, over an admittedly depleted South Africa, and with the toss a significant factor. I think Doug (above) is a little harsh on Moeen. He took 4/59 in the first innings when the pitch was behaving. Is he a world class spinner? Probably not. Does he bring plenty to the table with his all round skills? Yes. His first innings 87 was important in setting the game up. On other issues: it is indeed a relief that Ballance managed to contribute something, but is that enough? My gut feeling is that he can score against more moderate attacks but gets found out against top class fast bowling (Aus, SA, Pak). Is Dawson a test cricketer? No. He’s a 1990’s style bits and pieces player, and we all know how “good” England were in the 1990’s. I’d much prefer Rashid.

    • Do we know the rationale for picking Dawson ahead of Rashid (whom I’d prefer, too) ?
      Ah, here it is – Rashid is too similar to Moeen… not entirely convincing:
      http://www.espncricinfo.com/england-v-south-africa-2017/content/story/1110390.html

      The top order is clearly a work in progress; Jennings is at best unproven, Hameed will no doubt return at some point, and in the meantime there’s no alternative to Ballance at three who absolutely demands to be selected… and it’s not entirely a bad thing that we pick the guy who tops the first class averages.

      Same team for the next test, so I guess Dawson and Ballance get at the very least another shot at cementing their positions.

  9. Moeen undoubtedly had a MOTM performance, not clear why some people are playing it down.
    Jennings and Balance did enough to be given another go and I’m pretty sure they will be in the team for the next test. If Bairstow is going to keep the gloves then I would have him at seven and Moeen at five.
    I can’t understand why Dawson would be played ahead of Rashid if they want two spinners. His batting proved not to be a factor in his selection!
    Interesting what will happen when Woakes is fit.

    • I don’t agree with the rationale, but this is the explanation from the link I posted above:
      “Moeen and Adil Rashid are very similar characters,” Bayliss said. “Both are attacking spinners and we just felt if we could get someone who could control a little better – and hopefully take some wickets as well – that might set us up more long-term.

      “In the second innings, Dawson did that role very well. If it is tight at one end, it allows Mo – as an attacking style offspinner – to attack at the other….”

  10. I think the rationale is that even with 6 bowlers, they don’t have anybody that can tie up an end and give them control, basically the role that Gilo used to play.

    Swann (and Panesar to a lesser extent) was a bit of a freak in that he could bowl tightly on day one and then come into his own on a wearing wicket. Possibly they’ve realised that’s not what they’re going to get from Mo, and none of the seamers really fulfil that role which is why it’s Dawson over Rashid. Jadeja does a similar role for India, Kallis used to for SA.

    I kind of see the rationale, but not convinced that Dawson’s the man. Do agree that with 6 bowlers, there is zero point in playing 5 seamers and one spinner. Going to be interesting to see what they do when Woakes is fit again. Thought Wood looked a bit ordinary.

  11. Veturi Sarma on

    How come Lord’s was spinning so much on the 4th day? Do you think this is gonna be the pattern going forward?

    • Think there were two main factors, the first being the fact that the Lords Test is normally in early June, rather than 1st week of July, so contributed to the dryness of the surface, and second, the fact that it had been dry and sunny, which baked the surface.

      Not sure the groundsman did much different, but he certainly didn’t water it to keep it green.

      Probably deteriorated a little quickly, but I’d rather see a surface like that than some of the dull featherbeds that are guaranteed to last 5 days.

  12. Moin Ali is a master in itself. He has capability to bowled out the strongest batsmen, and also to win the game single handely.
    Moin Ali is the best Test Spinner bowler.

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