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June 10, 2014
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Moeen Ali has played mock Tests in his garden with his brother and watched his cousin, Kabir, make his one England appearance in 2003. Now he is on the brink of the real thing for himself.
One of three uncapped players in England's squad, Moeen is pencilled in to bat at No. 6 against Sri Lanka but it is his bowling that is generating the most interest in the post Graeme Swann era. He is the main spin option available to Alastair Cook and, if all goes to plan, will become the first England bowler to deliver a doosra in a Test match.
In a sense that shows how far behind the times English cricket is. The sight of a doosra is hardly novel these days - it was first purveyed by Saqlain Mushtaq back in the mid-90s - but there remains an inherent unease about the unorthodox so Moeen is seen as something of a trailblazer. English cricket did have a flirtation with the delivery when Alex Loudon had his brief foray into the international scene, but Moeen's is something closer to the real deal even though his first-class bowling average remains a tick over 40.
The confidence is partly because of the identity of his tutor: Saeed Ajmal. The Pakistan offspinner has happily imparted his wisdom to Moeen, who has been using the delivery with increasing regularity this season. Their methods differ a little. Moeen explained that his grip is subtly different to Ajmal's, who gets more bounce at a quick pace, but Moeen is confident that both those attributes will come with practice.
"It's coming on well. I worked really hard with it over the last month or so, so hopefully if I feel confident and get a couple of good days in practice then I'll be ready to bowl it," he said. "I bowled about eight in the last Champo game and in Twenty20s I've been bowling five or six each game. So far every one's landed."
"If I was to play a one-day or Twenty20 game tomorrow I'd be 100% confident to do it. I think the four-day cricket's a little bit different, so I just want to make sure I get two good practice days in and I'll be confident to bowl it."
He has yet to pick up a wicket with the doosra - "a few plays and misses and I had a close lbw that bounced a bit high," he said - and believes that there is an element of kidology to having it in his armoury.
"If you have something different or mystery or even just a little bit of doubt in the batsman's head, it makes a massive difference," he said. "If you get one early, the guys hesitate to use their feet and stuff, knowing that you've got it. Even if you don't bowl it.
"Saeed says half the time he doesn't have to bowl it because people just know that he's got it. I remember a couple of years ago I bowled a normal offspinner that went straight, and somebody had told the umpire that I could bowl a doosra, he thought it was a doosra and gave the guy lbw."
The doosra, however, does come with baggage. There are those who believe it cannot be bowled legally, although Moeen said that umpires in county cricket have told him there is no change in his action between the deliveries he bowls.
Amid all this, it also has to be remembered that Moeen remains a batsman first, even if the gap is closing, with a first-class average this season of 74.20. "I'm not sure I'm mystery yet but hopefully in time I can become a mystery bowler," he said. "I am here to do exactly what I've been doing at Worcester and doing a good job with the bat and ball."
There is something ironic, too, that the excitement generated by Moeen's Test debut is coming against Sri Lanka, a team who have just had to endure another of their bowlers being put under scrutiny for a suspect action and also after Ajmal was less-than-impressed when Stuart Broad became engaged with Michael Vaughan over Twitter in response to a still image of Ajmal's action.
Sri Lanka do not seem overly perturbed by what surprises Moeen may have on offer; for Sri Lanka batsmen, facing spin in whatever form it comes does not create nightmares. There was a wry smile from Lahiru Thirimanne, the vice-captain, when he was asked about Moeen's potential to cause problems. "I don't think the Lord's wicket will turn," he said. "We just want to concentrate more on pace. We're good at playing spin, so we just want to concentrate on fast bowlers."
You sense that Sri Lanka will try to dominate Moeen when he comes into the attack, but you also sense that Moeen will quite like that challenge.
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Andrew McGlashan
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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