India vs England: Imperious Moeen Ali stamps authority with fairytale comeback, wins series for England

As a kid, it would take Moeen Ali twice as long as the other kids to travel to matches because his father‘s car was old and would keep heating up, so they had to wait for it to cool down and then move ahead. The constant stopping and starting would frustrate the young Moeen, but during those times, he learned to deal with reality. Like those car rides, Moeen career‘s over the last six months has been full of discontinuity.

By the end of January, he had become a laughing stock in Australia after an abysmal performance in the Ashes series. Experts had told him to focus on his batting rather than trying to become England‘s primary spinner. But Moeen himself was aware of his capabilities. He knew that in Australia, his performance had been hampered by a finger injury that prevented him to grip the ball firmly.

England‘s Moeen Ali celebrates the wicket of Ajinkya Rahane on Sunday. AFP

Six months after, and with a solid grip on the Dukes ball, he has showed exactly why he still is England‘s best spinner as he skittled a highly fancied India batting to propel his nation to a 3-1 series win. It is an incredible turn of fortunes for a man that had lost his place in the England team to a spinner, Adil Rashid, who had given up on first-class cricket.

Before the first Test in Birmingham, England captain had to tell Moeen that he would be displaced by Rashid. The choice created a great uproar in England‘s cricketing fraternity. But Moeen, the scapegoat, took it on the chin. Instead of complaining, he decided to rediscover his form by gaining some match practice in first-class cricket.

So while his teammates were tussling with India in the third Test, he was in the north-eastern coastal town of Scarborough, playing for his county Worcestershire. He batted at No 3, scored a double century and then regained confidence and belief by taking ten wickets in the match.

Moeen‘s imperious form, the nature of the surface in Southampton and the injury to Chris Woakes meant that he was a certain starter in the fourth Test. Importantly, he brought with him something that not many England players had — confidence and runs.

On the opening day, he dug England out of trouble with tenacious innings of 40 to propel England to a respectable total. But then on the second day, it was Moeen Ali, the spinner that created havoc for the Indian batsmen with a fine exhibition of classical off-spin bowling.

Before the summer, Moeen had worked with spin bowling coach, Saqlain Mushtaq to keep his right arm tucked into his body during this approach to the wicket. This change of technique enabled him to be more balanced at the point of delivery and finish his action with more momentum. The new approach seemed to be working as Moeen, bowling at a slower pace than his counterpart Ravichandran Ashwin, got more drift, dip and revolutions on the ball.

Moeen had kept it simple. His prime objective was to hit the rough outside the right-hander‘s off-stump. His accuracy had to be commended. Close to 30 per cent of his balls had landed in the footmarks, making it extremely tough for Indian batsmen to dominate him. He created uncertainty in the batsmen‘s mind. He made the ball spit out of rough and put demons in the minds of the Indian middle order. Moeen would finish with figures of 5-63.

The second time around, the pitch had dried further and the footmarks had more venom. Moeen knew he was always going to be a greater threat. But the challenge didn‘t faze him nor did he feel the burden of expectation.

Like the first innings, he started over the wicket and just zeroed in on the large footmarks. He bowled 13 overs on the trot. He nearly had Virat Kohli leg before wicket, but the decision went against him. Kohli along with Ajinkya Rahane had played him almost perfectly, but Moeen was never going to be disheartened. He kept coming like the great spinners of the past. He knew one would lead to two and two would lead to three. Finally, on the stroke of tea, his luck turned as Kohli‘s gloved one to short-leg.

Moeen was ecstatic, and rightly so. He had turned back the clock. This was vintage off-spin bowling. He would eventually finish with nine wickets and also the Man of the Match honours.

“It‘s believing you‘re not a bad player after one bad winter — many players have gone through that, and for me it was just moving on, making you a better player, a stronger character.” he had told reporters at the conclusion of day two.

‘A strong character’, is an ideal way to sum up Moeen. Even during those long car rides to and from the ground as a kid, he had developed the trait of patience. On day four, he would use his enduring powers to lead England to victory, and in the process wrap up the series.

Updated Date: Sep 03, 2018 09:00 AM

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