I guess it was inevitable in the end. Faced with the prospect of a long Ashes tour, in which he may have been peppered by Australian quicks and mauled by Australia’s batsmen, Moeen Ali has prudently decided to call it quits. We’ll still see him in white ball colours, of course, but his Test career has come to a close.
How will we remember him? Very fondly, I hope. As a Worcestershire supporter, I have enjoyed every minute of Mo’s career, and I feel genuine pride at his achievements. He’ll always have a special place in my heart because he stayed loyal to his county throughout his career, despite constant rumours linking him with a move to Edgbaston.
What’s more, Mo always, always, remained humble. While Birmingham’s other sporting hero – the footballer with the alice band – decided to take a different path because his current employers couldn’t match his aspirations and weren’t a good fit for his superstar brand, Moeen always remained grounded. No release clauses for him.
Having said that, however, I’m glad that Mo has decided to step away from Test cricket at this point. It’s clearly the best thing for his mental health and, if I’m being honest, I don’t think he warrants a place in the side these days. I would much prefer England to invest in Jack Leach, who has actually had a tremendous start to his Test career statistically – although I suspect that, given Silverwood’s history, Dom Bess might be the man lined up to replace Moeen because of his potential with the willow.
Moeen’s typically candid and honest interview in Cricinfo, which is a really interesting read, makes it obvious why he couldn’t really go on. His heart just wasn’t in it anymore. And I can understand why. Although he hasn’t always performed consistently for England, he’s also been messed around quite a lot. He’s been shunted up and down the order, been dropped and recalled more times than I can remember, and endured a tortuous time in self-isolation overseas after contracting Covid-19. Consequently, as he approaches his mid-30s, it makes perfect sense for him to prioritise the T20 circuit while he’s still box office. Mo’s certainly not letting anyone down by retiring now.
However, as I reflect on Mo’s career, I’m left in two minds. Was he mismanaged – in other words, would he have performed better if given the chance to play as a batsman who bowled (like he does for Worcs) in a clearly defined role – or was it his versatility that enabled him to play so many games and generally hang around the squad (and remain in the selectors’ thoughts) for so long? Maybe he would have been dropped permanently a long time ago if he was merely a specialist batsman that could turn his arm over?
There were moments in his career when Moeen looked the real deal as a batsman. His maiden century against Sri Lanka and a ton batting up the order in India were probably the best examples. However, there were also times when he looked very vulnerable against the short ball and gave his wicket away cheaply through ill-advised swipes – a bad habit that actually characterised his early years as a promising batsman in county cricket. A first class average of 36 and a list A average of 28 pretty much tells the story. Mo never lacked for talent. But talent is only half the battle.
As a bowler, Moeen was always capable of taking wickets. His ‘best ball’ as he puts it, really was good enough for most, including Virat Kohli who he dismissed on more than one occasion. However, his biggest weakness was always his inability to offer Alastair Cook and then Joe Root any control in the field. This is actually half a spinner’s job. Sadly, his Test economy rate of 3.61 just doesn’t cut the mustard.
Overall, therefore, Mo was always mercurial rather than masterly. The highs were absolutely delicious but the lows left a somewhat unpleasant taste in the mouth. The bottom line is that he probably frustrated more than he elated. There were too many times, particularly overseas, when his captain needed more.
The one caveat that I’d add, however, is that Mo’s record as a bowler in England was actually more than acceptable. He won Tests and generally complemented the seamers very nicely. But of course, there’s always more pressure (and expectations are much higher) when English spinners travel abroad and there’s less assistance for the seamers. This is when captains need their slow bowlers to be reliable. And sadly, Moeen was never that.
So now we move on. Mo will leave some craving more but others quietly glad to see the end. Which camp am I in? My heart is in the first camp (how can you not miss his cover drive?) but my head says that his departure was probably overdue.
Some players in England’s dress room, which I’ve previously described as a chumocracy, are never really dropped; they’re only ever rested and then recalled at the first opportunity whether they deserve it or not. At least Moeen’s retirement draws a line under what’s been an incredibly entertaining ride. There will be no more random recalls. And no more being unfairly dropped into the middle of Test series without any red ball practice, either.
All the best, Mo. Great but not one of the greats. That’s not bad.
teacher playwright and cricket nut
You have this almost spot on James. Those reckless shots when we needed him desperately to save the batting bacon frustrated me endlessly. However I have never lost sight of his willingness to accept the dross he received from ‘management’ with good grace. As a second string county bowler, he did exceptionally well in test cricket. He will be missed.
2016 was a great year for Moeen. Only third player in history after Botham and Kallis to score 1000 runs and take 30 wickets in a calender year.
Going from promotion to the vice-captaincy to retirement in just a few short weeks is a bit of a mess. I suspect more than a few others if they jumped ship just before an Ashes’ tour would have got some harsh words. As for being mucked about, if he’d made a sustained and compelling case in any of the roles in which he was tried he’d have been left in that role but he never quite did. The only one which was a complete nonsense was when he was asked to open in the UAE but that was quickly abandoned.
The only way I think he was genuinely unfortunate was that he was probably best at No.6 or No.5 but with Stokes established as No.5 meaning the No.6 could often be a specialist batsman he was often too low at No.7 and left stranded with a crumbly tail. That said, there were plenty of times he was in with an a good batsman at the other end and gave it away.
I’ve never understood all the apparent stuff about what a good gut he supposedly is. Firstly, it doesn’t matter. Secondly, it’s all media image and who can trust a word they say? Thirdly, when things turned against him he allowed some petulant whinging to appear in the media under his name. I rather think things were never the same between him and England when he was left out of the WC Final.
I’m glad James had the sense not to go on about his SR like some others do. His SR proves nothing much except how the game has changed in recent years. Test batsmen get on with these days and very few are capable of grinding bowlers down like they used to.
Call me cynical but I wouldn’t be surprised if they pick Leach in Australia, let him be masscred and then say, “see, we told you he wasn’t up to it” and then never select him again outside Asia.
On a different subject, even by their basement standards, the ECB’s conduct over Pakistan has been rank. Where’s Whatmore – locked in a cupboard under the stairs?
That’s an overly reductive view of strike rates. If that was true, then you’d expect any half-decent (or even not half-decent) seamer to have a much better strike rate than any seamers of times gone by (which is essentially the argument you’re making about Ali). They don’t.
Mismanagement definitely. For a long time those making the decisions have had no idea what spinners are for. No, he didn’t always turn it on but that doesn’t appear to be an issue with most of the team in the past few years. Yes I am looking at you Buttler
Never a test match cricketer, but he has that along with many others selected recently. However was always prepared to fill gaps where necessary. His bowling has certainly come on but his batting was always suspect on anything but a flat track, always a good watch though. Nice to see him given the vice captaincy this summer when Buttler was unavailable. Just shows he was held in high esteem by the players.
He may be the first of many to cut short their test careers if Covid bubbles continue to plague itineraries.
I’m sure he’s got many white ball appearances left for us though, including world cups.
Just an afterthought. How many quality spinners have England had in the modern era apart from Swann?
“He may be the first of many to cut short their test careers if Covid bubbles continue to plague itineraries.”
England have found the perfect solution to that – just cancel the away series, and only play at home. To make it even easier, subject all but the financial mightiest to 3 months of solitary confinement to make the respective home-sides ‘competitive’.
The treatment of Pakistan by the ECB is an absolute disgrace.
As for the deafening silence from YCCC, an organisation with a bit more of a spine would have thrown the book at the club by now. But we all know that won’t happen, since even for the ECB it is hard to explain to the most idiotic of journalists why a 50-point penalty to Durham would be justified for this.
Moen was an alright Test player. But you know on the BBC today he has a piece about his “struggles” with Test cricket. Ok I wouldn’t mind struggling a bit on their enormous salaries to do something most of us in here would give out right arm for. And either you want to play for England or you don’t. If you do put up with the inconveniencies and stop moaning. If, as we are told, Stokes has genuinely got mental health problems I sympathise as one who has been through it, but really there is too much namby pampy with these blokes these days. And I don’t go with this “overworked” mantra either. The IPL, and the bubbles involved in that don’t seem to give them any problems. I wonder why that is?
Yes and the ECB should be ashamed of themselves, Pakistan came here in a lockdown, played a Test series and all before vaccines. We can’t even do them the honour of a 4 day visit in return.
A likable and capable cricketer.
His determination and willingness to turn himself into a decent spinner, I know he wasn’t perfect but you don’t get the amount of wickets he did without being good, is to be admired.
If I have a criticism it would be that he never seemed to quite believe enough. A great team player who regularly contributed and made a difference but perhaps did not dominate/win/shape a match enough to command a place?
I think that’s a really good point. He was very much a confidence player with both bat and ball. This might explain why the highs were so high and the lows so low.
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