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.