Moeen proves his worth - and unveils the doosra
Two wickets to the good and with his confidence soaring, Moeen delivered the first "doosra" of his international career. Not just the first doosra of his career, but the first bowled by an England bowler in Tests. It was a significant moment in English cricket history.
It was not hard to pick from the hand - it is slower and more floaty than his normal offbreak - but it drew a respectful "well bowled" from Mahela Jayawardene and it may well have given him the confidence to bowl it more often. Most of those who believe the delivery cannot be bowled without throwing did not even notice it happen.
"I was feeling pretty confident so I thought 'why not bowl one'?" Moeen said afterwards. "It's the first one I've bowled. I just wanted to do a job for the team first. I'm not as confident to bowl it with the red ball as I am with the white ball. He played it quite well, but he did sort of say it was alright."
He is improving, too. He has a close relationship with Pakistan spinner Saeed Ajmal, who has returned to Worcestershire for a stint as an overseas player, and has spent many hours working with him in the nets. Ajmal has shared the secrets of his doosra with Moeen and, he says, nobody else. In recent weeks, Ajmal has watched Moeen bowl 30 or 40 doosras in succession in practice. While there is a long way to go before Moeen's doosra is anything like Ajmal's, it is worth remembering that Ajmal only learned the delivery in his mid-to-late 20s. Moeen, who celebrated his 27th birthday on Wednesday, has time on his side.
The knives were out for Moeen Ali long before he bowled on Sunday afternoon. "He's useless," the pundit in the press box roared when Alastair Cook finally threw Moeen the ball. "He can't bat and he certainly can't bowl."
The pundit's opinion is, up to a point, understandable. Having heard the England coach, Peter Moores, describe the spin position as "a weakness" after the Lord's Test and having heard the captain, Cook, describe the spin position as "a cause for concern," it would seem natural to conclude that neither of them had much faith in Moeen's spin bowling.
It was a view that could only have been reinforced when Cook, despite the dry pitch and an off-colour display from his seamers, seemed reluctant to trust his spinner until the 56th over. It was beginning to be hard to understand why they had selected him.
And it was a view that could have only been reinforced by the plethora of "experts" who have spent the last few weeks repeating the myth that Moeen is a "part-time" spin bowler. Experts who have clearly not spent much time at New Road watching Moeen fulfil the main spinner's role for Worcestershire for much of the last few years.
Perhaps he will now be afforded a little more respect. While he is a long way from proving his long-term viability as a Test spinner, Moeen did at least show on the third day here that he is far from the bits and pieces player that he has been dismissed as by some.
His first wicket was that of Kumar Sangakkara. That is the Sangakkara who had just become one of only four men in history to score seven successive half-centuries in Test cricket and the Sangakkara with more than 11,000 Test runs to his name.
But, having turned a couple sharply enough to demand the batsman's respect, Moeen drifted one into the left-hander. This one did not turn, or turned very little, and though Sangakkara pushed forward, the dip and drift defeated him and he was struck on the pad and trapped lbw. It could have been Graeme Swann bowling. It was exactly the way Swann tortured so many left-handers.
Better was to come. Two balls later, Lahiru Thirimanne pushed forward at another bowled from round the wicket and, having been drawn into playing the ball on middle and leg by the drift, was beaten past the outside edge by one that turned sharply and hit the top of off stump. It was, by any standards, a lovely piece of bowling. "It's the best ball I've bowled on TV," Moeen said.
Moeen has now taken 93 first-class wickets since the start of 2012 at an average of 32.18. They are not extraordinary figures, certainly, but they compare well with most other spinners who have been utilised by England in Test cricket in recent years. James Tredwell, by contrast, has taken 49 (at an average of 45.12), Monty Panesar has claimed 153 (at 30.77 apiece), Gareth Batty has taken 74 (at 30.60), Scott Borthwick has taken 71 (at 36.11), Simon Kerrigan 140 (at 29.31) and Samit Patel has taken 63 at 47.09. Adil Rashid, who has not played Test cricket, has taken 60 (at 41.58). Whether Moeen is a Test class spinner remains to be seen, but on those figures, he has a good argument to be considered among the best available to England at present. Calling Moeen a part-timer spinner is simply factually inaccurate.
If England are demanding instant success, he may not be the answer. If they are building for the future, he may well be worth some perseverance.
Besides, England's failings here have not been caused by the absence of a world-class spinner. Instead they have dropped catches - Chris Jordan was the latest to put down a straightforward chance, reprieving Dimuth Karunaratne in the slips on 12 - let a strong position slip when batting - they lost their last seven wickets for only 54 runs having surpassed the Sri Lankan total with eight wickets in hand - and then bowled with unusual lack of control or even sense. The manner that James Anderson and Stuart Broad - bowling far too short and often too wide as well - wasted the new ball at the start of the Sri Lankan second innings may yet cost England this match.
Complacency surely cannot have been an issue. A team that has now won any of its last seven Tests and was defeated in the World T20 by Netherlands has no reason for anything of the sort.
They should not be complacent about their over-rate, either. After being fined for a slow-rate in the Lord's Test, England have again failed to bowl the minimum number of overs demanded in a day here.
One day the ICC will look at the pitifully small crowds which have now become the norm in Test cricket and act to prevent such self-defeating practices. They will suspend a high-profile captain and focus the minds of the players on the demands of the spectators. But until they do, the punters will continue to be asked to pay ever more for less and continue to drift away from the game.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo