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India v England

Moeen Ali struggles to repay England’s faith on up and down day

Ben Gardner by Ben Gardner
@Ben_Wisden 3 minute read

Ben Gardner tries to make sense of a day of peaks and troughs for Moeen Ali on Test recall against India.

It started, somewhat fittingly, with a full toss.

Debate on social media is often polarised, but some of the discussions surrounding Dom Bess’ exclusion from England’s Test side stretched credulity with their one-eyed nature. His error-strewn effort in the fourth innings of the first Test and general overabundance of luck was somehow parlayed into suggestions that he “doesn’t land half his deliveries”, with Moeen Ali, his replacement, apparently the opposite, cast as the consistent, doesn’t-miss-his-spot anti-Bess. Moeen, at his best, is a better bowler than the junior man, but he’s rarely relied upon to keep the runs down; no bowler in Test history has bowled more balls than Moeen has with a worse economy rate.

In truth, the two are similar in many ways, and this was a marginal call, and likely as much about Bess’ performance in the first Test as how he did in training afterwards. He didn’t just look ragged on that final day, he looked tired, and Moeen’s recall perhaps had more to do with Bess than with him.

Moeen is a confidence cricketer, and even at his best he’s an attacking weapon, primed to tempt strokes and chance his arm, happy to risk going for a few for the reward of a match-winning spell. It helps to remember that when trying to make sense of his first day in an England Test shirt for two and a half years, in which he bowled a ball so good Virat Kohli was still trying to work out what had happened long after he’d been castled, but also went at well over four an over, taking just one more wicket on a pitch puffing regularly.

England will likely have wanted more from Moeen, but might not have expected it. In truth, only they will know what shape he was in coming into this game, with net practices still behind closed doors even if the crowds are allowed back into Chepauk, and his last first-class game coming in 2019. The hope is that, despite Kohli’s internet-shattering reaction to his dismissal, its greatest effect is felt by Moeen, a reminder to himself that he can outdo the best, and that he can quickly turn around a poor start with his own brand of incisive off-spin.

After the horrors of Edgbaston and the extended absence that followed, many feared that Moeen’s curate’s egg of a Test career had come to a sad, quiet end. In that light, his recall is a triumph in itself, and his dismissal of Kohli a partial vindication. If England are to turn around a game which India are well ahead in, they may need much more from the sometime-match-winner. If Moeen has taught us anything, it’s that no matter what’s gone before, his best may always be just round the corner.

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