Shashwat Kumar reflects on Moeen Ali’s recent success in T20s for club and country.
Moeen Ali can tear any bowling attack to shreds. He also has the ability to end his own innings in the most inexplicable way. Whenever he takes the field, it’s with an asterisk – an asterisk that simply isn’t befitting of a player of his class and grace.
Recently, though, in the 20-over arena something has begun to change. Not only has he begun to fulfil his vast potential in franchise cricket, he has started translating that form into the international arena. And that trend has perhaps reached a crescendo in the Caribbean, where he has led England with distinction and morphed into the world-class all-rounder he’s always threatened to be.
The 2021 IPL can be considered to be a turning point. Signed up to play for MS Dhoni’s Chennai Super Kings, Moeen was handed more responsibility. He batted at three more often than not and was given the freedom to set the game as per his liking. CSK trusted Moeen to get the job done and he repaid their faith, helping them to the title with 357 runs at an average of 25.5 and strike rate nearing 140.
Prior to that tournament, England had seen Moeen as an option who primarily operated at five or below, someone who could come in just that little bit later to provide a high-impact knock – he would stride out towards the end of the innings, cream a few boundaries and walk back to the dressing room with spectators often left wanting more.
But now there appears to be greater faith being placed upon the left-hander; most of his work is coming at No.4, while he was even elevated to No.3 at the World Cup against South Africa, batting in that position in international cricket for the first time since August 2015, when he reeled off a 46-ball 72* against Australia at Cardiff.
In the ongoing series against the West Indies, there have been shades of the hit-and-miss style he’s been known for – he’s departed for two ducks – but there have also been two knocks of real impetus, with a 24-ball 31 in the second T20I followed by a stunning 28-ball 63 in the fourth. With an injury to Eoin Morgan, he’s even had to take on the captaincy, with the greater responsibility seemingly bringing out the best of him in that fourth encounter; he excelled with the bat and used himself skilfully with the ball too, returning figures of 2-28 from his four overs after taking the new ball on a surface with sharp turn.
At 34, Moeen seems to be at the peak of his powers in the T20 game and England finally appear to have made him a central figure in their plans. Furthermore, with Morgan continuing to struggle for runs, Moeen could be considered as more than a stand-in leader. He has led Worcestershire with distinction in the past, leading them to back-to-back Blast finals in 2018 and 2019, while he was also at the helm when Birmingham Phoenix finished runners-up at The Hundred last year. He’s picked Dhoni’s brains at the IPL too, and having waved goodbye to Test cricket, his workload is more manageable than before.
The talent at Moeen’s disposal has never been in doubt, although there has always been an asterisk attached. That, however, seems to be changing. He’s played more than 200 international games, but at this moment in time, Moeen has perhaps never been more integral to an England side.