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Moeen Ali has 11 wickets at 33 against India. He might not be comparable to Graeme Swann, but it is time he gained the respect he deserves
George Dobell at the Ageas Bowl
July 30, 2014
#politeenquiries: Have England reached the turning point?
The story so far:
Kumar Sangakkara: Headingley, Second Test, England v Sri Lanka:
Sangakkara, set up by a couple of deliveries that have spun gently away from his outside edge, prods forward only to find that this ball is pushed on a little quicker and does not turn. The batsman, one of the best players in the world of spin bowling, calls for a review, but the umpire's leg before decision is upheld.
Lahiru Thirimanne: Headingley, Second Test, England v Sri Lanka:
Thirimanne, having fallen first ball in the first innings and having just watched Sangakkara dismissed by one that went straight one, ensures his pad is well out of the way, only to see his tentative forward defensive stroke beaten by a beauty that drifts in and spin away sharply to hit the top of his off stump.
Virat Kohli: Lord's, Second Test, England v India:
The spinner is introduced into the attack for an over before lunch. It is not a visionary piece of captaincy, but it almost works. Kohli, on 20, plays back to one that is pushed through a little quicker but sees the outside edge dropped by Matt Prior.
Cheteshwar Pujara: The Ageas Bowl, Third Test, England v India:
The spinner struck in his first over once again as Pujara, the man dubbed the 'new wall', is drawn forward, but due to some gentle drift away from the bat and gentle turn into it, plays down the wrong line and edges to slip.
Virat Kohli: The Ageas Bowl, Third Test, England v India:
Kohli falls victim, once again, to a delivery outside off stump that could probably have been left. With some balls turning and others skidding on a little, Kohli lunges forward to cover the turn, but instead edges one that slides straight on.
At some stage, people are going to have start respecting Moeen Ali's bowling.
To claim the occasional wicket might be dismissed as fortuitous. After all, Michael Vaughan once bowled Sachin Tendulkar with a beauty that spun through the gate.
But if it keeps happening, if a bowler keeps dismissing batsman of the quality of those listed above, then he deserves a little more credit. A little more respect.
It was talk of the doosra that excited when Moeen was selected by England. But that delivery, at this stage, was always likely to be a red herring.
It was not an explosive wicket-taker that England were seeking. It was a reliable container with the ability to exploit turning conditions on the rare occasions when they were encountered. It was a bowler who could retain control while the seamers were rested and would not wilt under pressure when the batsmen came at him.
These are early days, but the signs are promising. Here, bowling a tight off stump line and benefiting from a dry, worn pitch, he saw a few balls turn sharply and many others skid straight on through natural variation. He rendered a batting line-up brought up on turning pitches, a batting line-up renowned as fine players of the turning ball, appear timid and vulnerable. And he did it all with the skills of a traditional English offspinner. There has not been a doosra in sight in this game.
Part of Moeen's problem is that he follows in the footsteps of Graeme Swann. Swann raised the bar by which English spinners were judged and may prove, as Sir Ian Botham once did, an impossible act to follow.
But it is unlikely that Swann would have enjoyed the docile surfaces at Trent Bridge and Lord's any more than Moeen. He might have contained more effectively with his dip and his control, but he would have struggled to run through sides on these pitches. In the 2011 series against India, Swann claimed 14 wickets in four Tests at an average of 40.69. Moeen already has 11 in three Tests at an average of 33. Nine of Swann's wickets came in the final Test at The Oval.
Perhaps being underestimated has helped Moeen. In the first innings, he benefited from Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane attempting to dominate him. Routinely dismissed as a "part-time" spinner - generally by part-time observers who have not have visited New Road for a few years - Moeen has dismissed four of India's top six in this Test alone. Only James Anderson of England and Bhuvneshwar Kumar of India have taken more wickets in the series. He is winning the battle of the spinners, too. Ravi Jadeja's eight wickets have come at a cost of 48 apiece.
|Moeen's development might be partially credited to the benefits of an 18-county system. While he made his first professional appearances for Warwickshire, it is at Worcestershire that he has developed.|
He has enjoyed little luck, either. He saw Kohli dropped off his bowling at Lord's, Herath dropped off his bowling at Leeds and Dhawan and Rahane reprieved in this match when the use of DRS would have assured him more wickets. Playing his fifth Test, he has 14 Test wickets and has taken his bowling average below 40. They are not world-class figures, certainly. But they are valuable and respectable. Ashley Giles finished his career with a Test bowling average of 40.60.
The facts never supported the view that Moeen was a "part-time" bowler. Heading into this match, he had claimed 101 first-class wickets since the start of 2012 at an average of 33.31. That compares to Scott Borthwick (76 at 35.56), Samit Patel (70 at 44.80), Adil Rashid (71 at 38.16), Simon Kerrigan (149 at 29.55) and Monty Panesar (157 at 31.03). Moeen may never be a world beater, but to dismiss him as part time is simply factually inaccurate.
There are still too many 'release' balls - a long-hop here; a full toss there - but gradually Moeen is offering his captain the control he requires in the field and relieving just a bit of the pressure on the main seamers. After conceding five-an-over in two of his first five innings as a Test bowler, he has not done so once in the last five. Three times in the last four innings, he has conceded under three-an-over. He is learning fast how to survive at this level. A great deal of that process is simply learning how to stay on for another over.
There should be a lot more to come from him, too. He has spent many hours in the nets with his friend and county colleague Saeed Ajmal - the value of overseas players in county cricket should never be underestimated - learning the art of the doosra. Some days they will bowl 40 or 50 in succession together, with Moeen gradually increasing the pace of the delivery as well as its accuracy and venom. Saeed, who only started bowling the delivery in his mid-to-late-20s, believes that Moeen will have it mastered within a couple of years.
If England bear with him - just as they will need to bear with the likes of Jos Buttler, Gary Ballance and Chris Jordan in good times and bad over the next couple of years - they should reap a rich harvest.
Moeen's development might be partially credited to the benefits of an 18-county system in England. While he made his first professional appearances for Warwickshire, it is at Worcestershire that he has developed. The club offered him a place in their side as an allrounder in all forms of the game at a time when Warwickshire's then coach, Mark Greatbatch, said he could not see Moeen earning a regular place in his side for another five years.
Moeen's contribution was part of an almost perfect day for England. By wrapping up the Indian innings so quickly in the morning - it took just 25 balls to claim the final two wickets - they gave themselves an opportunity to enforce the follow-on.
Instead they decided - reasonably enough - to give their bowlers another few hours rest.
If that decision might have been perceived as negative, the manner in which they increased their lead was admirably positive. Each of the top five played selflessly with Alastair Cook judging a tricky declaration with something close to perfection. He really has enjoyed a fine match to date.
For the first time in a year, the fragile signs of recovery are visible in the England side.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: George Dobell
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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