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18th Oct, 2021

Moeen's farewell exposes England's off-spin folly

Rob George 28th Sep, 2021

MIS-HANDLED, wrongly blamed for failure but capable of ‘brain-fades’ Moeen Ali’s test career certainly wasn’t dull, writes Rob George.

AFTER 2,914 runs and 195 wickets, ‘The Beard that’s Feared’ has taken his leave from test match cricket after seven years, 64 appearances and countless memories.

While the extra 86 runs and five wickets in the final test would have rounded out those figures nicely, there was clearly no prospect of Moeen hanging around after fifth test with India was abandoned earlier this month.

“Test cricket is amazing, when you’re having a good day it’s better than any other format by far, it’s more rewarding and you feel like you’ve really earnt it,” he said.

“I’ve enjoyed test cricket but that intensity can be too much sometimes and I feel like I’ve done enough of it and I’m happy and content with how I’ve done.”

Behind his relaxed demeanour is a wise cricket brain, a desire to do his best for himself, his family and both his county and country. The beaming smile on the night of the 2018 Blast triumph as he entered the media room showed just how much the success meant.

It was a brain never used by England well enough, Joe Root’s comments of ‘regret’ in how he personally handled Moeen reflect the unease which will live on after his departure.

Scrambling around for a front-line spinner after the retirement of Graeme Swann, England threw the ball to Moeen in 2014 after hearing how much he learned from Pakistani spinner Saeed Ajmal during his stint at New Road.

But the previous regime failed to accept Moeen would therefore have to learn ‘on the job’, something no top test match country has ever asked of a spinner.

In seven years playing for England, Moeen has been in and out of the team and incredibly batted every position from one to nine in the batting order – hardly the recipe for stability.

Despite the uncertainty Moeen demonstrated his talent with a century in his second test match as England came within one ball of salvaging a draw against Sri Lanka. While that was a rearguard action Moeen also showed his class with a belligerent 155 not out against the same nation.

With talent came the odd moment too no better summed up than in the fourth test with India earlier this month.

35 not out, batting wonderfully alongside Ollie Pope against a tiring travelling side, Moeen skied Ravi Jadeja and left the field knowing at least a 50 was there for the taking.

Combined with some of the loose bowling performances, perhaps it’s no surprise he was in and out of the team.

What was wrong though was the way he was made to carry the can for some defeats, such as Edgbaston in the 2019 Ashes and the comments about the slow tempo of his batting at times.

In India earlier this year Moeen took eight wickets – including a beauty to dismiss Virat Kohli – then faced headlines questioning his commitment as he ‘chose to go home’.

The truth was Moeen was part of England’s controversial ‘rest and rotation’ policy and was simply saying no to staying on a tour which saw him isolated after testing positive for Covid in Sri Lanka.

No other England batsman faced such headlines when they returned home, just Moeen.

He’s played his part in some memorable moments and together with Adil Rashid showed there is a pathway for British Muslim lads to reach the top for their country.

But as Moeen rides off for life in white ball cricket here and overseas, England’s problem remains the same as it did in June 2014.

Just who will succeed Graeme Swann?

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