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The triumphs and travails of Moeen Ali's Test career

As he announces his retirement from Test cricket, we chart Moeen's many ups and downs over the past four years

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
09-Aug-2019 • Updated on 26-Sep-2021
Moeen Ali during England training  •  Getty Images

Moeen Ali during England training  •  Getty Images

Moeen Ali has enjoyed as many highs as he has endured lows in his Test career. After his decision to retire from the format, we track his many ups and downs over the last four years.
Ashes 2017-18
Moeen went into the 2017-18 Ashes on the back of a brilliant 2017 home summer, which included a haul of 10 for 112 at Lord's and a hat-trick at The Oval in the South Africa series, and a swashbuckling hundred against the West Indies in Bristol.
But after spending weeks in the nets and with Mark Ramprakash preparing for a barrage of bumpers from Australia's quicks, he endured an awful run against Nathan Lyon: he was dismissed seven times in nine innings by him, and his struggles spilled over into his bowling, as he returned five wickets at 115.
New Zealand 2017-18
With Jack Leach in the squad as a possible replacement, Moeen needed to prove he was England's best spinner, and that he could contribute with the bat, in the pink-ball Test at Auckland.
Instead, he made 0 and 28, and took 0 for 59 in 17 overs, as England slumped to an innings defeat. By the time the Christchurch Test had come around, Leach was in for his debut.
Pakistan 2018
While England stumbled at Lord's and then bounced back emphatically at Headingley, Moeen was playing for Worcestershire in the One-Day Cup, his Test career at a crossroads.
With Leach injured, England plumped for Dom Bess as their first-choice spinner, who made one half-century and a 49, as well as taking three wickets in Leeds. The path back to the Test side for Moeen was far from clear.
India 2018
After controversially selecting Adil Rashid, who hadn't played a first-class game in 11 months, England raced into a 2-0 lead before capitulating at Trent Bridge, and then found themselves facing a turning pitch at the Ageas Bowl.
Step forward Moeen, to come into the side alongside Rashid, and take nine wickets at Southampton to propel England to victory. He was even promoted to No. 3 to allow Joe Root to return to his favoured number four, digging in for a 170-ball 50 at The Oval. Following six months in the wilderness, all seemed well with the world.
Sri Lanka 2018-19
Pushed back down the order after two failures in the first Test, Moeen didn't allow his loss of form with the bat to affect his bowling, as his 18 wickets at 24.50 underpinned England's stellar efforts with the ball.
With Leach (18 wickets) and Rashid (12) to keep him company, he formed part of a spin triumvirate that led England to an improbable 3-0 whitewash.
West Indies 2018-19
Despite 14 wickets in the series, including seven in the win in St Lucia, Moeen was outbowled by West Indies' allrounder Roston Chase, and managed only 77 runs in his five innings.
Following two brilliant series, this was a note of warning, and after an underwhelming World Cup and no red-ball cricket before the Ireland Test, Moeen was under pressure.
Ireland and Ashes 2019
Scores of 0 and 9 at Lord's against Ireland, including a particularly soft dismissal to Boyd Rankin's predictable short stuff, and only 4.2 overs in the match meant Moeen went into the Edgbaston Test sweating.
And after an embarrassing duck in the first innings - bowled by, you guessed it, Lyon again, without playing a shot - Moeen found himself on a spinning pitch in Australia's second innings, and needing to make a match-turning contribution.
Instead, he returned 2 for 130 in his 29 overs, figures that were shown up horribly by Lyon's 6 for 49, and not those of a man who leads the world for Test wickets since the beginning of August 2018. To make matters worse, he made only 4 when trying to save the game, prodding his opposite number to David Warner in the gully.
By the time Lord's rolled around, the selectors decided it was time up.
Post-Ashes 2019
Moeen declared he would take a break from Test cricket, citing a desire to "refresh my batteries" on the day it was announced he had been omitted from England's list of centrally contracted Test players. It means missing England's two Tests in New Zealand in November, and possibly the red-ball leg of the South Africa tour in December and January.
While he retained his white-ball contract, and will be a central part of England's plans for the World T20 in Australia next year, this was the first time since 2014-15, the year of his England debut, that Moeen had been overlooked for the top tier of ECB contracts.
England's director of cricket, Ashley Giles stressed that Moeen's decision did not spell the end of his 60-Test career and revealed he had "encouraged him to leave that option open to come back" to the longer format in the future.
India 2020-21
Moeen's recall, for what would prove to be his final tour as an England Test cricketer, was doomed from the outset. He was diagnosed with Covid-19 on arrival in Sri Lanka in January, and so spent ten days in quarantine, wrecking any chance of playing in either Test at Galle, or the opening match of the subsequent India series - a famous England win, as it turned out.
His comeback for the second Test was a success in isolation. Moeen claimed eight wickets for the match, four in either innings, although his economy-rate, pushing four an over, was too leaky to compete with the parsimony of his India rivals, Axar Patel and R Ashwin. His most arresting moment came with the bat, as he slammed 43 from 18 balls from No.9 in the dying moments of the match - a volley of strokeplay that may well have played a part in his subsequent £700,000 pay-day at the IPL auction.
By that stage, however, Moeen had already departed from England's Test tour, his pre-arranged downtime, as part of the ECB's rest-and-rotation policy, courting controversy when Joe Root erroneously claimed he had "chosen" to fly home from the tour. Though he returned in the summer for three final Tests, the writing for his Test career was already on the wall.

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets at @mroller98