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Stokes' injury worry throws spotlight on Moeen's place

Moeen Ali cracked a quickfire half-century AFP

When Ben Stokes grimaced and limped off the field at Headingley to check on the health of his knee, Moeen Ali had more cause for concern than most.

The balance of England's one-day side means that if Stokes' all-round prowess is denied them at any time during the Champions Trophy then the resulting reshuffle would leave Moeen fearing for his place.

England's captain Eoin Morgan sought to allay fears that there might be something seriously wrong with a knee that has let Stokes down in the past, but England will be giving it careful scrutiny before determining whether he should play in the final two matches of the ODI series against South Africa.

With Stokes fulfilling strong roles as a middle-order batsman and a seamer, it could lead England to replace him with Jonny Bairstow in the middle order and opt for an extra seamer - David Willey and Jake Ball were omitted against South Africa on Wednesday - and that would leave Moeen vulnerable.

Not the sort of outcome that he needs after the sight of him blazing sixes into Headingley's blue skies in the first ODI indicated that he might be running back into form again.

Moeen cleared the boundary boards five times in a late assault, alongside Morgan, which helped swing the match in England's favour. It was a reminder of his innate talent. Even when his shots sail deep over the ropes, it feels less about power-hitting than aptitude. If he is heading back to his best, it will be another tick in the England box.

Moeen missed the one-day matches against Ireland while Stokes was absent at the IPL and now he says: "It's nice to be back in the side and to have Stokesy back helps me play as well. I was told by Morgy it was about the balance of the team, and especially against Ireland when [Adil Rashid] bowls a lot more variation and he felt he was going to bowl well against them. I'm fine with it and it's one of those things. You just get on with it."

Moeen freely admits that he has had a thin run with the bat. After taking a century off Scotland in Christchurch in February 2015, he went 23 innings without passing 50. In his defence, batting at No. 7 behind a successful top six does not create many opportunities. But his unbeaten 77 in Leeds, to follow a half-century against India in Cuttack in January, hints at better times.

"I find batting seven tough," he admitted. "But I'm trying to get better at it. On previous occasions when I've had the opportunity to play a lot more balls I've given my wicket away a bit early. So I told myself I was going to give myself a bit more time, get myself in and back myself that I can then play a few more shots as well.

"In county cricket and when I played first for England I opened the batting. I can beat the field in the first few overs and then later on I can play a few more shots. When I'm in, I feel I can hit decent-sized sixes. You only have to get it over the rope and that's all I try to do really. But it's not easy for someone like me who probably can't hit sixes like Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler and hit the gas like those guys."

Moeen is averse to working on his power-hitting because he feels it destroys his timing and he is grateful that Paul Farbrace, England's assistant coach, has come to understand his game more deeply.

"I find if I work on power-hitting I lose my rhythm," he said. "I just try to keep it as natural as possible. Even towards the end of my innings there were a couple I tried to slog and I lost my shape. It's more an instinctive way of batting and Farby helped me a lot. He knows my game, knows what I need to do to get myself into a bit of rhythm. It's more confidence building. But until you've gone out and scored the runs you don't have that confidence."

In the meantime, for all his assurances that he will happily accept what falls his way, he will be keeping an eye on Stokes' health. After all, millions of others will be doing precisely that.

"At my best I can get in the side," he said. "I can bat anywhere in the order and I feel my bowling is quite important against good sides. There's obviously times when I don't pick up the wickets but I try and bowl as tight as I can.

But if Stokesy is not fit, or for whatever reason he's not playing, and I get told that I'm not playing I'll still be happy."