SOUTHAMPTON, United Kingdom: Moeen Ali’s performance in taking six wickets during England’s first Test win in nearly a year has left national coach Peter Moores excited by the heights the off-spinner could yet reach in international cricket.
Ali’s second-innings return of six for 67 was instrumental in skittling India out for 178 as England won the third Test by 266 runs at Southampton on Thursday to level the five-match series at 1-1.
His bowling display saw the 27-year-old Worcestershire all-rounder, a practising Muslim, put to one side the controversy he had generated earlier in the match by wearing wristbands proclaiming ‘Save Gaza’ and ‘Free Palestine’.
Not that England coach Moores was surprised.
“Moeen is a very level-headed bloke and that is one of his real strengths,” he said. “He stays calm under pressure. So he took it for what it was and moved on.”
After off-spinner Graeme Swann retired during England’s 5-0 Ashes thrashing in Australia, England decided this season to give Ali, primarily a batsman, a chance to stake his claim as their leading specialist slow bowler.
Often damned with the faint praise of being a ‘part-time’ off-spinner, Ali has so far taken 15 wickets at an impressive average of 26.46 in the India series, with only England’s James Anderson (16 wickets) a more successful bowler so far in the first three Tests.
“Test match cricket is about how rapidly people grow in it,” said Moores, now in his second spell as England coach.
“He’s grown very quickly as a bowler and I hope that carries on. Mo is a very sensible lad. He knows he’s got to keep doing a lot of work.”
Ali had already proved his worth as a batsman, making a Test hundred at Headingley in June that so nearly saved the match and the series against Sri Lanka. And following his display at the Ageas Bowl, it seems his bowling will be treated with greater respect.
“He keeps getting better,” said Moores. “That’s exciting, because you don’t know when he’s going to stop.
“To get people like (Cheteshwar) Pujara and (Virat) Kohli out early on -- they’re very high-class players of spin -- that’s a very good sign for the future.”
His efforts in the third Test also demonstrated Ali’s ability not just to bowl conventional off-breaks but to utilise the variation.