In defence of Moeen

Updated: Feb 19

In the past few days, cricket Twitter has been a hellish mess. Divided like the UK over Brexit; should Moeen Ali be In or Out? The off-spinning allrounder nearly rescued England with an electric 33-ball 61 yesterday night against Pakistan, including three sixes in four balls off Shadab Khan. Yet a seemingly poor run of international form has left many fans questioning his England future.

On the international scene, 2019 was not a good summer for Moeen Ali. In five World Cup games, he failed to pass fifty and took just five wickets. He was dropped after England's near-tournament ending defeat to Australia at Lord's, and, despite having been an integral ODI player for Morgan's world beaters, he watched on from the side-lines as New Zealand were twice tied with on that glorious Sunday in July. Then came the Ashes. A quick turn around hurt most of England's multi-format players, and Moeen was no different. He played just one test, was twice dismissed by Nathan Lyon again, and struggled with the ball. Moeen has not been seen in test whites again, and may never don test cap number 662 again.

However, the county game proved slightly different for Mo last year. He captained Worcestershire to the t20 Blast final, winning the man of the match award in the semi-final, and scoring a phenomenal 120* to lead a chase of 185 with more than two overs to spare in the quarter-final. He finished with 365 runs in 7 knocks, picking up 11 wickets with an economy of just 6.7 and three man of the match awards. If a young player had this record, we'd be demanding he was in the England set-up.

Following this successful county t20 form, Moeen was rested for the five IT20s in New Zealand, before returning for the limited overs fixtures in South Africa, the last games England played in front of crowds. While some have argued Moeen's international form has been poor, his returns in early 2020 go against this argument. He only played the third and final ODI, but took a useful 1-42 in 10 overs, and his unbeaten 17* took a nervy England over the line in the chase. The first t20 saw Moeen take the key wicket of Quinton de Kock, and go for just 22 in his four overs. While he failed to take England over the line with the bat, he made up for it in the second t20. England were losing momentum at 125-5 when Mo arrived, and with just 29 balls to go in the innings, he smashed 39 off just 11, with four sixes, his three over blast helping England get a defendable 200+ score.

Moeen did underperform against Ireland in the recent ODI series, and in the first two t20s against Pakistan, but his return to form yesterday was very impressive. The early wicket of Fakhar Zaman was key, and from an awful position of 69-4, his effort with the bat made England competitive in a game they were out of when Tom Banton fell. It was Banton's fall that meant Sam Billings, England's last recognised batter joined Ali, who had faced jsut t2o balls, with England needing over 120 runs to win at over 10 an over. England had no right to be close to winning the game, and while Ali will feel he should have taken them over the line, Pakistan executed at the death and sometimes there is little that can be done. Add to that his 39 in South Africa, and in his past six IT20s, Moeen has had two amazing knocks with the bat. He may not be in the best of form altogether, but in IT20s, he's hardly playing badly.

I'm not saying Moeen should never be dropped or questioned. And he certainly needs to be more consistent. His ODI place is far from safe. But his ability in t20 cricket is seriously impressive, and while his scores since the start of 2019 have not been good enough, he is still talented enough to be backed.

However, had he not made 61 yesterday, I would still back Moeen. Because while I often have no clue about the logic of some of England's white-ball decisions (poor treatment of David Willey and Liam Plunkett, persistence with Joe Denly to name but a few), Eoin Morgan rescued us from embarrassing no hopers in 2015 to the best side in the world. So while some of his choices seem odd, if he keeps backing Moeen, that's good enough for me.


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