England must go with Moeen Ali's flow in rare chance to capture casual fans

Under-used asset should be picked to perform for free-to-air TV outing

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
Moeen Ali hasn't been used in England's T20I team for nine matches and counting  •  Getty Images

Moeen Ali hasn't been used in England's T20I team for nine matches and counting  •  Getty Images

Whatever Eoin Morgan's views on fiscal policy, it is safe to assume he places limited faith in the free market.
When Moeen Ali's name was called at February's IPL auction, it sparked a bidding war between Punjab Kings and Chennai Super Kings, fetching him a fee of Rs. 7 crore (£690,000 approx.). It proved that while Moeen has been surplus to requirements for England's T20I side for more than nine months, there is still high demand for his services in the biggest T20 tournament in the world, where competition for one of the limited number of overseas slots is fierce.
And Moeen's performances in the six games he played before the IPL's curtailment vindicated Chennai's faith in him. Batting at No. 3, he made 206 runs in six innings with a strike rate of 157.25 - only Prithvi Shaw and AB de Villiers made more runs at a quicker rate. With the ball, he bowled two overs a game on average, taking five wickets and conceding a miserly 6.16 runs an over.
In an England shirt, by contrast, Moeen has not been required for nine consecutive T20Is and there is every chance that streak will extend to 10 games in Cardiff on Thursday evening (though Morgan has hinted there will be a handful of changes). He has played in just 12 of England's last 37 T20Is and while he is certain to be named in the squad for the T20 World Cup this autumn, the fact he went unused during the five-match series in India in March was proof that he has been overtaken by Sam Curran as the luxury pick at No. 7, afforded by Ben Stokes' presence in the top six. In all formats, Moeen has played only four times for England in nine months.
England's explanation for his ongoing omission is simply that conditions haven't suited him. Pitches in Cape Town, Paarl and Ahmedabad offered very little turn throughout the winter and Cardiff, the venue for their thumping eight-wicket on Wednesday night, has such short straight boundaries that Morgan has always been reticent to use spinners there, particularly from the River Taff End. In Liam Livingstone - preferred to Moeen at No. 6 in the first T20I - he has a batter who can bowl both offspin and legspin in the same over, versatility which Moeen does not offer.
But that rationale demonstrates the disconnect between how Moeen is viewed at club and international level as a T20 player: England see him as a second spinner who adds to their batting depth; Worcestershire, Chennai and Multan Sultans use him as a top-order batter who also offers an extra spin option when required. His offspin has been used increasingly sparingly in T20Is - he bowled a single over in each of his last six appearances and has been relatively expensive - but Morgan still refers to him publicly as their second spinner. For all England's batting riches, it seems like a waste of his ability with the bat.
The elephant in the room is Dawid Malan's form, which has dipped sharply since a superb innings of 99 not out against South Africa at the start of December. There is little doubt that Malan - still ranked the world's No. 1 T20I batter by the ICC - would be a good option at No. 3 in a World Cup in Australia, where hard, bouncy pitches suit his strengths square of the wicket and off the back foot, but with the T20 World Cup due to be played either in India or on used pitches in the UAE, that has limited relevance.
Malan struggled in India in March, being dismissed three times in 39 balls against spin, and with his runs drying up in domestic white-ball cricket, he is averaging 24.35 with a strike rate of 111.95 across all T20s since the start of the Big Bash. England's unparalleled batting depth means that innings of 25 off 20 balls are significantly more damaging than early failures or flashy cameos, and Moeen - a quick starter, and a clean hitter of spin - looks like the ideal candidate to replace him if his lean patch continues.
There is no guarantee he would have made a significant score, but it is hard to imagine Moeen nudging his way to 7 off 14 balls as Malan did on Wednesday night while England were cruising to victory. And if Morgan needs reminding about Moeen's worth in Cardiff, he need only cast his mind back to his only T20I appearance there in 2015, when he hit 72 not out off 46 balls from No. 3 then dismissed Glenn Maxwell with the first ball he bowled.
There is a wider context to consider, too. Thursday's second T20I is one of two England men's games shown live by the BBC on free-to-air TV in the UK this summer, and through no real fault of their own, the white-ball side has had limited opportunity to connect with the public at large since their World Cup final win.
The first T20I last night was their first game in front of a home crowd since that Lord's final nearly two years ago, and with the vast majority of their careers stuck behind a paywall, their players will want to serve up a better spectacle than Wednesday night's; even Jos Buttler and Jason Roy - perhaps the most destructive opening partnership in T20I cricket - could do little to liven things up with such a low target to chase. The fact that tonight's match falls on the first rest day in the Euro 2020 schedule means the scope to draw in casual viewers is all the greater.
There are two moves to make. The first is that if they win the toss, England should bat first regardless of the conditions on what is expected to be a used pitch. Not only would it give their batting line-up valuable experience of setting a total before this autumn's World Cup, it would ensure there is a chance to show off their wealth of batting options.
And the second is to pick Moeen, if not for Malan then for either Curran or Livingstone, whose brief spell on Wednesday proved that Cardiff does not have to be a graveyard for spinners. The demand for him in the IPL suggests he is wasted carrying drinks, and there are fewer better sights in the game than Moeen's smooth flow while hitting down the ground - it would be a missed opportunity not to open it up to a significantly bigger audience than usual.

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98