England v India, 5th Investec Test, The Oval August 13, 2014

Role model Moeen setting high standard

His rapid improvement with the ball has been integral to England coming from behind to lead the series - but that is just one area where Moeen Ali continues to impress
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Moeen Ali: 'I've worked hard on my bowling'

A bad back in the nets when he was 14 may have been the moment that defined Moeen Ali's career. Early in his days in the Warwickshire youth set-up he bowled seam-up, but an injury prompted him to tell Steve Perryman, the then bowling coach at Edgbaston, that he was able to send down a few spinners. Two balls was all it took before Perryman told Moeen, "Right, you are a spinner from now."

Fast forward to August 2014 and he sits on the verge of having the most successful series by an England spinner against India. Currently he has 19 wickets at 22.94 following two match-winning spells at the Ageas Bowl and Old Trafford, giving England a 2-1 lead in the Investec Test series. Even if you disregard the endless suggestions that he was no more than a "part-time" spinner to begin with, it is a remarkable story.

"I don't know how I'm getting these wickets but I'm happy to," he said with a laugh, reflecting on a few weeks which have strengthened what had already been a developing cult status within English cricket.

MS Dhoni has insisted India need to attack Moeen, but there is more than a suggestion that the visitors have not adjusted their gameplans in line with Moeen's improvement. At Old Trafford their attitude to him was brazen.

"They felt I was an easy target, a guy they could get easy runs from, which has helped me quite a bit," Moeen said. "If they attack me, now I'm bowling well, I've got a chance. But they're very good players of spin. I don't know how I'm getting these wickets but I'm happy to! I feel like I'm on top and I feel I can get players out."

He has also largely shelved the doosra for now after realising he can work over batsmen with the conventional offspinner, allied to drift and, what Shane Warne likes to term, natural variation.

"Yeah, I don't need it at the moment. The way I'm bowling at the moment, attacking both sides of the bat because some of them are going straight on, means I don't really need it. I'd still like to have it in my repertoire but it needs a lot more work."

It is now well known that Ian Bell has played a key role in the transformation of Moeen from a bowler who managed to pick up useful, but often expensive, wickets to someone Alastair Cook is now becoming increasingly confident to throw the ball to with a match to win. "I don't want to get carried away," Moeen said. "But I do feel I've taken a big step towards being a decent Test spinner. I feel like I have more control, and that my captain and team-mates can trust me."

However, it has emerged that Kumar Dharmasena, the Sri Lankan umpire who stood in the first two Tests of the series, also offered some crucial, if unorthodox advice, while standing in an England net session before Lord's. Dharmasena, an offspinner during his playing days, advised Moeen to grab his left pocket with his non-bowling hand as he came through his action to help him get through the delivery at the optimum speed. Moeen noticed the impact immediately.

"As soon as I bowled one ball I knew it would work," he said. "That, for some reason, allows me to bowl quicker and straighter without being flat. I knew that was how I needed to bowl from then on. It's completely different from county cricket. I bowled there in the eye line, as people say, and I didn't have consistency. As soon as I bowled that way for England I got hammered, especially by India and Sri Lanka because they use their feet so well. Even slightly good balls disappear. They're so good at it. So I had to bowl quicker and straighter and to my field a bit more. So far it's been all right, since Lord's."

"All right" is Moeen's modesty coming through. It is one of many admirable character traits, which have at the same time quickly endeared him to the English cricket public - an audience that has had its patience and loyalty tested over the last 12 months - but also made him stand out as a cricketer with a rare understanding of the bigger picture and the wider world around him.

That freedom of expression and thought, however, has created two of the moments where Moeen has witnessed the attention comments and actions will gain from someone of his growing stature. On the second day of the Ageas Bowl Test he batted wearing wrist bands to bring attention to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. The ECB offered its full support but he was told to remove them by the ICC (although, sensibly, not handed any fine or official reprimand).

"I didn't think it would be such a big deal. I just totally forgot I had them on when I went into bat," he said. "Obviously it all came out but it didn't bother me one bit, the media and what people say. Even if I get criticised it doesn't bother me because I just try to get on and do the best I can."

But it did remind him of the focus he will now be under. "I have to be a lot more careful. ICC didn't allow me to wear them and I accepted that. I have a lot of opinions on a lot of stuff but it's not the time and place now to go into it. I wasn't trying to be political it was just a humanitarian thing. I can speak about it but I don't think it's the right time now especially before a Test match. Maybe later on I will speak about it."

Previously, before he made his Test debut against Sri Lanka at Lord's, he gave another open and honest press conference where he spoke with warmth and humility about the importance of being a Muslim (including lighthearted references to the much-talked about beard), the pride it brings and his hopes of being an inspiration for future generations - something he is well on the way to achieving. Sadly, in one major UK newspaper there was a column by a well-known writer, who had not been present at the press conference, that questioned Moeen's motives.

"I didn't want people to think I was trying to be all about my religion and all that kind of stuff, it was just a question I was asked at the time," he said. "It is really the most important thing to me but that's my own thing. With regards to a couple of things that came out, I wasn't that upset about it I just didn't expect it. It doesn't bother me what people write - about my beard or whatever."

And he has a simple approach to keeping himself level, whether in cricket or in life. "I don't really read a lot and am not on Twitter or social stuff so I don't get too excited or too down. I try and be as level as I can and if things do get tough then I can sit back and tell myself it's just a game of cricket - there's more to life than cricket. And when things get too over the top, I do the same thing, bring myself down a little bit."

It does not appear that Moeen will be fazed by his new-found status, but there can be no doubt that his life has changed. "When I go to the shops I get free food and stuff now," he joked, before quickly, and eloquently, explaining how he wants to help benefit others. "A lot more people obviously recognise me and ask me for autographs. It's good because I get a lot of Asian kids especially coming and asking me 'what's it like playing for England?' and 'how do people treat you?' and that kind of stuff.

"That's the kind of barrier I want to try and break down - that people think it is tough and will treat you badly if you're a practising Muslim or whatever. That is the reason I like to play cricket for England - because I can break down barriers for other people and inspire kids, not just Asian kids but all kids, to play.

"Even if I didn't play for England again, speaking to a lot of these kids I can see they're really interested and really want to play for England, which is nice. Previously a lot of them wanted to play for India and Pakistan but now I get a lot more Asians coming up to me saying they're supporting England. That's what I want and that for me makes me happier than anything - a lot of people are supporting England and want us to do well."

Moeen has come a long way from the streets of Birmingham, the kid who bowled seam-up and the allrounder who had to move counties to find a permanent home. But you sense there is still much more to come in the Moeen Ali story.

Investec, the specialist bank and asset manager, is the title sponsor of Test match cricket in England. Visit investec.co.uk/cricket or follow us @InvestecCricket

Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • android_user on August 15, 2014, 12:34 GMT

    MA.... He's simply too modest good to see England finally clicking.... Kohli's test and pujara's wicket were classic!.....and your humility gotta appreciate your attitude

  • tjsimonsen on August 15, 2014, 9:17 GMT

    I admit hands down that I was highly critical of MA after the SL series. At that point I saw him as a bits and pieces player. But I have changed my mind. He has bowled very well in this series - especially at Southampton. His line, length and pace were close to perfect, making his drift and natural variation all the more dangerous. Yes, the Indian batsmen weren't playing well, but give some credit to the bowler! He made them look terrible as much (or more) than they made him look great. OK, in the 2nd inning in Manchester, the Indian batsmen looked as incompetent and suicidal as Brazil did against Germany in the WC soccer semi final. I'm still not sure that he is a genuine test no six batsman, but he's proved me wrong before. It remains to be seem how SA and AUS will deal with him (and visa versa). But let's not forget that a few weeks ago, people claimed that he would be eaten alive by the Indian Masters of Spin.

  • android_user on August 14, 2014, 17:25 GMT

    What people dont realise /neglect is that India for all its history of spin bowling have completely failed in the spin department post Kumbke /Harbhajan . Ashwin and Jadeja are not even proper test spinners outside the subcontinent .Pragyan Ojha also struggled in Aus recently but has been given a raw deal to ve honest and in terms of spin bowling is better than Ashwin /Jadeja .Moeen has outbowled Jadeja and though that can be due to incompetence of Indian batsmen Jadeja has not been able to yake even ten wickets and has been played easily .Certainly we have a lot more depth than Aus/SA/NZ but what we need is quality abroad which is missing since Kumble /Harbhajan .We need to develop youngsters such as Akshar patel and some others .Hope guys like Akshar do not turn out limited overs specialists .

  • Kangroos.Proteas.Monkeys.Lions on August 14, 2014, 16:31 GMT

    Mo negotiated bouncers in the last test quiet well but then was surprised by varun's paced with fuller delivery. Looking for a century by Mo in the next test which will be icing on the cake.

  • kumarcoolbuddy on August 14, 2014, 15:59 GMT

    In this whole series India struggled more against spinner one and only Moeen Ali. Whole words knows that India is best against spinners like Shane Warne, Muralitharan etc but this Indian batting line-up was over-confident after Lords victory. Just because of this Indian batting line-up Moeen Ali is mounted with high expectations now. Cook has to really thank this Indian batsmen because they really helped him when he was under tremendous captaincy pressure.

  • dummy4fb on August 14, 2014, 15:54 GMT

    Moeen Ali is a real breath of fresh air in this age when we are saturated with over-rated, IPL stars. This is a man who is a keen learner - soaking it up from everywhere. Good to know that he had Sakib and then Ajmal and Bell and even Dharmasena dispensing useful advice. However, its not just advice that makes the star. It takes an open mind and a eager learner to absorb it all and Moeen has that in abundance. Good luck Moeen. With that kind of an attitude, you should soon be firmly implanted among the genuine stars.

  • Yuosufahmed on August 14, 2014, 15:25 GMT

    India should retire from test cricket and just continue with hit and miss ODI or T20 that their players are fond of at least for some time or just limit playing in home flat tracks. The other option available is to start playing with a lower division level teams like Ban, Zim, Ire and Afg. Otherwise, it is unfair for the good test playing countries as they help out of form players like Cook to get in to the form and part time spinners like Moeen to see like world beaters. When Cook averages 19.5 against SL, it is 44.5 against Ind with 2 fifties. When Moeen averages 60 against SL, it is 23 against Ind in bowling.There seem to be no future for test cricket in India with the like of Kohli and Dhoni who struggle in fast bouncy pitches. Pathetic display...Sigh..

  • CaseyWilliamOZ on August 14, 2014, 15:14 GMT

    really enjoyed reading the interview. lovely person with a positive attitude despite some nasty stuff targeted at him from the right wing press. good to england doing well. 3-1 series win for us :D

  • Adam_Leban on August 14, 2014, 15:09 GMT

    Kio Ora from New Zealand bro. I love Cricket and support our Kiwi lads. But watching the on-going Eng vs India test series has been awesome. Especially watching you bowl. You are an excellent role model. Kia kaha.

  • Cricinfouser on August 14, 2014, 15:07 GMT

    re-read the interview once again. mo comes off as a decent guy. really happy for you bud. just keep helping us win more games. don't like it when we lose :)

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