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Indian Premier League 2021

Moeen Ali can do anything, so England should have him do everything

by Cameron Ponsonby 5 minute read

As Moeen Ali added the IPL to his ever-growing list of domestic successes, Cameron Ponsonby reviews his position in England’s plans ahead of the World Cup.

Moeen Ali has spent his international career cursed by his own versatility. His ability to do everything has meant he has been asked to do anything and as a result there has been few times you’d have described his position within the England set-up as truly settled.

The same has recently been true of his position within England’s T20 side. A year ago he lost his place in the team during the South Africa series and when England toured India earlier this year, he didn’t play in a single one of their T20s. Eight months later and he became the first Englishman to ever win an Indian Premier League final. His position in the England side is surely no longer a question of if he’ll be in the XI, but how he’ll be used.

It is hard to know exactly whether Moeen is a batter or bowler first when it comes to England’s plans. It’d be easy to look at his bowling numbers in the IPL and consider him a banker for four overs in the World Cup. An economy below 6.5 and a strike rate of 25 means by the law of extrapolation, if you plug him in for a full set you can expect him to return figures of 1-26. Lovely stuff, I’ll have one of those please. But that would be to misunderstand the role he has been performing for CSK. Across his 34 matches in the IPL, he has bowled almost exactly an average of two overs a game and often comes on just as the powerplay ends to sneak an over or two in during the quieter period of the innings. A critic could argue that this is stat-padding, bowling the easy stuff and leaving the hard yards to someone else. And there’s an element of truth to that, but rather than it being a point of criticism it should be a source of praise. By bowling these overs and doing so to a very high standard, it gives England greater choice when deploying their big guns with the ball as and when they want to. Moeen’s versatility gives England greater flexibility.

With the bat, Moeen’s innings today fuelled the fires of many who wish to see him in England’s middle order for the World Cup. As it currently stands, it’s expected that if selected, Moeen will bat at seven. Today for CSK, he came in at four and scored an unbeaten 37 off of 20 balls.

It wasn’t a milestone, he didn’t get to raise his bat to the dressing room or have a graphic come up on screen heralding his greatness. But as a contribution to his side that put them in an ultimately match-winning position, it was vital.

Something us as cricket fans are slowly beginning to adjust to is that we live in the age of the cameo. We’ve been hard wired to expect batters to be “selfish”. Do it yourself, don’t leave it to the next batter and take responsibility. But T20 cricket is challenging if not flipping that notion on its head entirely. Being selfish in the modern game is to understand that your wicket isn’t as valuable as you previously thought it was. If you’re going to be the one to do it, it needs doing now and that means risking your wicket. Selflessness is the new selfishness. Going from ball one and keeping on going is the best thing you can do for your team.

This falls neatly into the mystique of Moeen. Part of Moeen’s aura was that we always seemed to just get flashes of him. It was all over before we could really begin to appreciate it. In Test cricket it was infuriating. But in T20? It’s fine. More than fine, even. It’s desirable. The ability to come in and inject pace to an innings is a vital skill and one that as Moeen slapped the ball over midwicket for six early in his innings today we were all reminded of.

Innings like today are the reason why the clamour for Moeen to bat higher up the order will likely only grow as we head further towards the World Cup. It is also entirely possible that with Morgan out of form he could move himself down to seven, which would then lead to Livingstone and Ali batting five and six respectively.

Speaking after the match, Moeen joked that only a couple of games ago he could’ve been dropped by CSK. But instead, the calmness of heads at the franchise and the sense of loyalty to players had allowed him to flourish.

“They’re so calm and clear in what they do. You get the backing here and you want to give it back as much as you can.”

The comments were revealing in that it showed the value that Moeen places on something that has so often been deprived of him in his international career. Stability. It’s not that Moeen can do everything so should be asked to do anything and fill in England’s gaps. It’s that he can do anything so he should be asked to do everything.

Don’t be mistaken: the debate of whether Moeen bats 5, 6 or 7 for England is one of luxury. So too whether he bowls two overs or three or his full quota. We’re talking fine tuning a Ferrari here as opposed to fixing a Ford Transit. But such fine margins win and lose competitions. And as Moeen Ali proved today, he is well versed in that regard.

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