Sri Lanka in England 2014 June 10, 2014

Moeen provides new spin for England


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 ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on June 12, 2014, 3:29 GMT

    To be honest, Id rather have Samit Patel in the line up since he is a much better batsman and can provide left arm spin..

  • Dummy4 on June 11, 2014, 17:58 GMT

    Moeen is little more than a reasonable county backup spinner. Nothing more and nothing less. A Test match at Lords against some top quality and experienced batsmen is a completely different story. He probably won't suffer as Simon Kerrigan did against the Aussies but he won't be too effective. Perhaps pick up a wicket or two but no trees will be pulled up. He will be looked at to score some useful runs at No.6

  • Android on June 11, 2014, 17:35 GMT

    i think he is more of pick as specialized batsman and i think in these conditions its better to have 4 seamers than nit so spinner

  • Jamie on June 11, 2014, 12:57 GMT

    Kerrigan may be back in due course, but he's not getting many wickets even at county level just now. This is not the moment for his return.

  • Jeff on June 11, 2014, 9:13 GMT

    Nowhere near good enough to spin at international level, an looks like a rabbit in headlights with the bat.

  • Tom on June 11, 2014, 8:56 GMT

    It will skid at Lord's, and I wouldn't be surprised if Root is bowled before Moeen.

  • j on June 11, 2014, 4:55 GMT

    I would throw him in at no.3. His bowling is useful of course but he looks a class act with the bat also and bats 3 for his county. He has an average of 74 frm 5 games with a big hundred in his last match. As we have no-one else at 3. We do not have a world class spinner so I have no issue with him and Root sharing the load. we also do not hav a genuine no. 3 - I see no reason to put Balance (bats 5 for his country) or Root/Bell (both have struggled there) at 3. Were it not for his bowling, he still might get selected as a batsman although you could make an argument for Compton, Carberry or one of the other Yorkshiremen

  • Srilankan on June 11, 2014, 3:38 GMT

    Have you forgotten the fact that there is no other team in the world who plays against spin better than Sri Lanka.

  • Lakpriya on June 11, 2014, 2:56 GMT

    Doosras will not be all that efficient, batsmen will not go after bowling therefore all these mystery things will not work. Bowlers like Mendis, Narine have struggled in tests where as in limited overs games they have been really tough to handle. If England are looking for a spinner for tests they need to go for someone who can really turn it.

  • Dummy4 on June 10, 2014, 21:08 GMT

    Simon Kerrigan? Really?

    I hear he bowls well for his county, but my impression of his test appearance is a guy who can barely hold a cricket ball and seems scared of what might happen when he lets go of it.

    Hope I'm proved wrong in the long term. But to give him another go after that? The very next home test? Not sure how anyone could justify that.

    Ali's bowling this season is light years ahead of what it was last season - but seam will be the factor in England in early June after such a wet May. I doubt any spinner England pick would bowl more than 16 overs in the match. If they have to, then something's gone badly wrong.

  • No featured comments at the moment.