There was understandable insecurity for Moeen Ali when he was overlooked by Ed Smith, picking his first squad after being made selector, for the two-Test series against Pakistan last May.
Smith suggested Ali was not a first-choice spinner, and that “hit me hard”, the 31-year-old said. “It was disappointing. I felt like they were looking for someone else.”
However, that also “spurred” him on to wrest back his spot. He had to wait for a bit – he didn’t play the two Tests against Pakistan, and sat out the first three against India before finally getting his chance in Southampton.
Moeen Ali’s last eight Tests
No one in world cricket has taken more Test wickets since his return to England’s side for the fourth Test against India last summer. pic.twitter.com/KVaSv3xAdI
— Wisden (@WisdenCricket) February 13, 2019
Ali returned a match-haul of nine wickets, and England claimed the series 4-1. He’s been a fixture in the side since, and in eight Tests he has claimed 44 wickets, at home, in Sri Lanka and then in the Caribbean.
In retrospect, the break helped. “I did need that break at the time,” he said. “Maybe if I’d been picked versus Pakistan I wouldn’t have bowled well. But I came back against India fresh, scoring runs, and taking wickets and I felt at the top of my game.
“I still had the belief. To get back in the side and prove I can do the job is … [pleasing].”
After a fine season, Ali now has 177 Test wickets in 58 matches. For someone whose role in the team is not always clear – is he a bowler who can bat or a batsman who can bowl? – the performances have provided clarity.
“I’ve done better than I thought I ever would,” he said. “I must have done okay to get that many wickets. I remember reaching 50 and thinking that was a massive achievement. Someone said, ‘maybe 100?’ and I thought no chance.
“But when you go past some of the greats, you think ‘maybe I am a good spinner?’ I feel like I belong. People might think I don’t, because they think I’m not a proper spinner.
“And so the ECB retreated to the warm ursine embrace of ‘Gilo’, the man who inherited an excellent white-ball team and managed to turn it into the laughing stock of world cricket.”@jonathanliew on Giles’ appointment as England’s new director of cricket.https://t.co/qu176zn4Np
— Wisden (@WisdenCricket) February 14, 2019
“There will always be good days and bad days, but I am improving. I think I can get into the side as a bowler now, even if I didn’t bat.”
But bat he can – Ali has five Test centuries and 14 fifties so far – it’s an area in which he is keen to improve. “It needs working on,” he said. “But I feel set. I will stay at No.8 and I know it. I have got my head around that and it feels natural now.
“Being a bowler, I’m very happy with that. Even if I do well people may say I should move up. But I’m happy.”