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Interviews

Moeen Ali: 'When I was playing Test matches, I always felt like I was bowling well in white-ball cricket'

After his Test retirement, the England allrounder is using his time in the IPL to work on his bowling for the World Cup in India later in the year

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
17-Apr-2023
Moeen took 4 for 26 against Lucknow Super Giants at Chepauk, his best bowling figures in his six IPL seasons  •  BCCI

Moeen took 4 for 26 against Lucknow Super Giants at Chepauk, his best bowling figures in his six IPL seasons  •  BCCI

Moeen Ali is in his sixth IPL season and his third as a Chennai Super King, but his first wearing yellow at Chepauk. The newly renovated stadium has been a fortress for CSK, who have won more than two-thirds of their games there thanks to a dominant spin attack - of which Moeen is now a key part.
They started their home season with a clinical win over Lucknow Super Giants, in which he returned his best IPL figures, 4 for 26. And even in last Wednesday's defeat to early pace-setters Rajasthan Royals, the home crowd were at their partisan best as MS Dhoni did his best to rescue a near-impossible run chase with a late flurry of boundaries.
"It's unbelievable," Moeen says when asked about Super Kings' home support. "To be representing Chennai at Chepauk, it's honestly pretty special. The way they've done the ground up, it looks amazing. The crowd and the support is some of the best you'll ever hear in your life. It makes you want to do really well for the franchise."
Dhoni is the protagonist, still inspiring huge crowds across the country. There is a widespread supposition that this will be his farewell season - he is 41, and is nursing a knee injury. Moeen isn't so sure. "He could definitely play again next year," he says. "The way he's playing, I don't think it'll be his batting that stops him from playing, even if it's in two, three years' time.
"I wasn't surprised at how he played [against Rajasthan]. I've been watching him in the nets, and he's been batting unbelievably well. It's just amazing to see from somebody at that age. It's not easy when you come in so late - people forget that a lot of the time, but that's what makes him so good at his role."
Moeen is among a select group of players who have played under two of the leading captains in modern white-ball cricket, Dhoni and Eoin Morgan. "They're very similar in how clear and calm they are, but also very different," he says. "Their interests and all that are very different.
"The biggest difference? MS does most of his captaincy on gut feel, on the day. It could be a bit like that with Morgs too, but he was also very data-driven. But they're both so calm. In terms of mannerisms, they are very, very, very similar.
"The best way I could describe MS is that he's a very normal person. Obviously he has a massive following but there's no big-headedness or anything like that. He's very humble. You can talk to him about anything… he's just as you see him on TV: approachable, calm."
Wednesday night's defeat to Rajasthan was less successful for Moeen. A "terrible game myself", he says of the match, in which he dropped two catches and was hit for back-to-back sixes by his England captain, Jos Buttler. He did have the consolation of knocking back Buttler's off stump: "At least I can say I got him out again."
It remains to be seen if he will be an automatic selection when all of CSK's overseas players are available, but he has played all three of the matches for which he has been fit so far, missing their comfortable victory at the Wankhede after a trip to a sushi restaurant in Mumbai ended with a bout of food poisoning.
For Moeen, the next six months are geared towards "getting myself ready - in terms of batting, bowling, fielding, fitness - for the World Cup" in October-November, when England will attempt to defend the 50-over title they won on home soil four years ago. In particular, he wants to "start getting my bowling back to where I know it can be".
It is not reflected in his record, but Moeen believes his offspin has suffered over the past 18 months since his retirement from Test cricket. "I actually feel like there's things I've been missing over the last couple of years," he explains. "I've just started to get it back again: a bit of rhythm in my action.
"At times in white-ball cricket, I've been a bit defensive. You always have an element of that, but it's more about the action. I'm trying to put more energy on the ball. I always thought I was trying to spin it, but I wasn't using my body as much. Everything's got to click and get aligned together.
"Sometimes that comes from actually not bowling enough. When I was playing Test matches, I always felt like I was bowling well in white-ball cricket. You can kind of lose that rhythm, I guess. I think I've got to have that mindset of still bowling with that same energy as I would have done in Test matches."
England left Moeen on the bench for the second half of the 2019 World Cup, in which spinners struggled throughout. This year, in India, it is unlikely they will do the same again: he will play a crucial role in supporting Adil Rashid and Liam Livingstone as one of England's main spin options.
"It's going to be really important that I do bowl, and that I get my bowling up to the best place it can be," Moeen says. "It's more than likely going to be my last 50-over World Cup, so I want to make sure it's a good one - both for myself and for the team. We want to defend the title, and spin could play a massive role in the World Cup."
Since he first played in the IPL, Moeen has noticed "a big shift" in the number of his England team-mates who are not only involved in the tournament but playing key roles for their respective franchises: "It just shows that we've been quality for a number of years in international cricket."
Come the World Cup, the squad's extensive experience playing in India - and adapting to the challenges posed by different venues - should stand England in good stead. "When you play somewhere, which we have done for years now, and you're used to those conditions, it can only benefit you in international cricket," he says. "It's great."
On Monday night, CSK take on Royal Challengers Bangalore. For Moeen, that means a return to his old franchise - and a tough examination at the Chinnaswamy, the most punishing venue for bowlers in the tournament. "The wickets look unbelievable this year," he says.
"It's always been a good place to bat, but I'm looking forward to bowling there too. They're still the kind of challenges I really look forward to, bowling when it's nice and flat. It's a big derby as well, the South Indian derby; both teams have huge fanbases. It's going to be a good one."

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98