Big milestone comes up for Moeen Ali, the selfless face of new England

For Moeen Ali, winning 100 ODI caps won't matter as much as 'being part of the change' in England's ODI cricket

Moeen Ali is on the cusp of 100 ODI caps, Leeds, June 20, 2019

'I won't look back at the number of caps when I'm done: the most important thing will be remembering all the fun I've had with the guys in the dressing room'  •  Getty Images

These are heady times for England cricket: days after it became apparent they had the quickest two bowlers in the World Cup, they broke another batting record courtesy of the barrage of sixes in Manchester. Now, we are told, they are the best players of spin bowling in world cricket, too. It's as if every cliché about English cricket is being systematically destroyed.
Those comments about their batting against spin came from Dimuth Karunaratne, the Sri Lanka captain. "I think England is the best batting line-up against the spinners around the world," he said on Thursday. "If you take the Asian countries, England play it better than them."
They are strong and remarkable words. England's long-term record against spin is grim. And it isn't just the great bowlers such as Warne and Muralitharan who have troubled them: earlier this year they were bowled out in a Test by Roston Chase. But this ODI side is different. And, since the last World Cup, they have undergone a transformation that sees them go into Friday's match against Sri Lanka knowing that victory will see them on the brink of the semi-finals.
One man who has witnessed this transition up close up is Moeen Ali. Moeen, who will win his 100th ODI cap on Friday, is one of just five survivors (Eoin Morgan, Jos Buttler, Joe Root and Chris Woakes are the others) from the England team that played Sri Lanka in the 2015 World Cup. It was a day that brought home the limitations of that side: England thought they had done well to set a target of 310 only to see Sri Lanka cruise to a nine-wicket victory with 16 balls remaining. England's best, it seemed, was nowhere good enough.
"We had the players [in 2015]," Moeen says now. "But the mindset needed changing. That was a big thing that Eoin Morgan, Trevor Bayliss and Paul Farbrace brought in.
"It is a much more natural way for me to play. It was how I always wanted to play. But I was young when I came into the side. And when you first come in you just go with the flow and think this is how it is supposed to be. But I remember going into bat a few times and thinking 'I'm just going to play a few shots here', and while that is how we do things now, back then it was different."
Moeen's own role has changed. He went into that 2015 World Cup as an aggressive opening batsman given license to attack; a harbinger of a style of play that was to become commonplace. It worked for him, too. In his first eight ODIs, seven of which he played as opener, he passed 50 four times, including a 72-ball century against Sri Lanka in Colombo. It was, at the time, England's third quickest ODI century. Now it doesn't feature in the top 10. Overall, in 21 innings as an opening batsman, Moeen averages 31.33 and has a strike rate of just under a run a ball, with two hundreds and two 50s.
The introduction of Alex Hales and Jason Roy, however, saw Moeen demoted. And while there have been moments he has shone at No. 7 position - he picks the 53-ball century against West Indies as a "favourite moment" in his ODI career - he has sometimes struggled to adapt to the demands of the role. Given little time to play himself in and less opportunity to hit over the infield, he averages 23.40 in 54 innings at No. 7, though at a strike rate of 107.31.
"No. 7 is not an easy position," he says. "The way you play is dictated by the pace of the game and you have to try to get quick runs. Even top players like Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes find it hard. To come in and hit it is not always easy. I once heard from a great player that if you come off three times in 10, you've done really well." That player, he says later, is MS Dhoni.
Not that Moeen is complaining. Disappointed while he may have been with the decision to demote him, he accepts those who replaced him have power that he does not. It's a team game.
"I never thought in my wildest dreams that I would get close to 100 caps," he says. "I never thought I'd be a senior player in a county side, let alone the England side. When you break into a county side, that is your aim, so it's an incredible feeling to have achieved that with England.
"I'm 32 now. I'm getting old. It's gone in the blink of an eye. But I won't even look back at the number of caps when I'm done: the most important thing will be remembering all the fun I've had with the guys in the dressing room and the friends I've made.
"That's the best thing: just being part of the team. Being part of the change. If I was to retire now I'd always be able to say I was part of that change and the great cricket we've played. It is by far the best team I've ever played with. Not just on the field but in terms of the environment. That's credit to the guys in charge."
England remain confident Roy will be fit to return to action for the match against India on June 30. He prowled around training on Thursday with the frustration of a caged tiger, briefly facing a few throwdowns before he was reminded he should be resting. His return would be a significant boost. For while England's improvement has been obvious and welcome, the team accept they require a trophy - this trophy - to make it worthwhile.
"Yes, we know a trophy matters to us," Moeen says. "We know there are big pressure games to come, but we've spoken about this. In the World T20 in India we literally had a laugh all the way through. We had such a good time.
"But at the Champions Trophy [in 2017] we didn't do that towards the end and we probably took it a bit too seriously. This time we want to stay true to ourselves as the pressure grows, both in the way we play and in the way we are as a team.
"We actually need to have more of a laugh and try to enjoy it as much as we can. We are only going to do this once and it is a great opportunity to win the World Cup at home."

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo