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Mighty Mo gives silver lining to cloud over Cook

Alastair Cook was given out to consecutive balls but both times was saved on review Getty Images

When Moeen Ali reached his maiden ODI hundred and raised his bat towards the England dressing room, there was polite applause from the sparsely packed stands, with a little more exuberance emanating from Barmy Army pockets. Each of his 16 boundaries was met with near silence but he surged on. When he was out, England were eventually quietened. But Moeen has created quite a racket in the debate about England's one-day cricket.

With the third-fastest ODI hundred by an Englishman achieved in just 72 balls, Moeen blazed like a man playing a different game to his team-mates, with the exception of Ravi Bopara who produced a familiar valiant hand in an unsuccessful chase. Moeen now ranks alongside Jos Buttler, whose 61-ball century lit up Lord's in May during another close defeat to Sri Lanka, and Kevin Pietersen, the previous England record-holder for his 69-baller in East London in 2005. Moeen's half-century came from 25 balls, one slower than Paul Collingwood's in Napier six years ago.

There were blemishes, chances missed by Sri Lanka when he had 72 and 89, the occasional play and miss, but Moeen exhibits the freedom that England frequently lack. This too in only is 20th international. It perhaps should not be surprising that a man who speaks so thoughtfully about issues beyond the sphere of cricket plays with the wisdom that it will not be his mistakes that define him.

The decision to bring him into the side at the expense of Alex Hales was partly founded on Moeen offering a bowling option and he was the first man to pick up a Sri Lanka wicket too, deceiving Kumar Sangakkara with a beautiful delivery. Moeen's serenity also made life easier for captain Alastair Cook at the start of England's innings, his counsel prompting two successful reviews against lbw decisions in the first over. Cook afterwards described Moeen's ability to seemingly hit boundaries at will from the outset as "incredible" as England went in pursuit of a 300-plus target.

Without Steven Finn, the attack's lack of experience, particularly of Asian conditions, showed. In riposte, Moeen was a one-man carnival, something more in keeping with the local rhythms, and provided inspiration for England that, with six more ODIs to come, the margin between the sides is not so great.

Only one other England batsman has made a one-day hundred in Sri Lanka but in joining Marcus Trescothick, who also made 119 at the Premadasa against Zimbabwe during the 2002 Champions Trophy, Moeen is in fine company. Superficially, there is little to connect the broad, bluff blaster from Somerset and the languid, wiry wizard of Birmingham beyond both being left-handers with a certain brooding intensity at the crease. Yet there is another link.

England have only bettered the 81 for 1 they achieved in the 10-over Powerplay here on two occasions since 2001. The last time, against India in 2011, was a game reduced to 23 overs a side, so not a like-for-like comparison. One has to go back to a seven-wicket victory over Pakistan at The Oval in 2003, when England flooded the first ten overs with 92 runs, to find an occasion when they got a 50-over innings off to a better start in the last 13 years. Trescothick bludgeoned 69 from 45 in that spell - while Vikram Solanki pottered to a Cook-like 8 off 16 at the other end - but Moeen's 51 from 25 was quicker.

There is violence as well as delicate precision in Moeen's shot-making. A booming flick off his legs against the bustling pace of Dhammika Prasad sent the ball into the stands at an outrageous angle almost perpendicular to the line of the delivery; twice in consecutive balls he advanced on Rangana Herath to loft over midwicket with princely disdain. When more controlled strokeplay was called for, he threaded a drive between the vain dives of extra cover and mid-off.

Like hover cars and garlic bread, Moeen is the future. When he was elevated to opener in England's first warm-up match, there was much huffing about the removal of Hales, supposedly the man to provide World Cup heat who had made his debut only four matches previously. Another case of one step forwards, two steps back. It was not as regressive as it seemed.

Moeen began his short ODI career as an opener alongside Michael Lumb in the Caribbean earlier this year and starts off the innings for his county - his maiden List A hundred, off just 46 balls, came batting there for Worcestershire in 2007. As if to sharpen the point, he lashed the first six legitimate deliveries he faced against Sri Lanka A on Friday to the boundary on the way to an insouciant, 21-ball half-century.

There is certainly no doubting his credentials now, though the mischievous thought that perhaps Moeen and Hales could feature in England's best ODI XI will continue to grow for as long as Cook's form remains in the muddy rut that it has ploughed for an awfully long time now. Cook joked that Moeen had taken the pressure off him with such a fast start against Sri Lanka A - a match in which Cook also passed 50 - but the opposite may turn out to be the case.