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‘It hurt me hard, but spurred me on’ – Moeen Ali on being dropped

by Wisden Staff 2 minute read

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.

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].”

Moeen Ali has been exemplary since taking nine against India in Southampton

Moeen Ali has been exemplary since taking nine against India in Southampton

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.

“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.”

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