Moeen Ali was tipped for the top long before he won his Test debut at the start of 2014. But, after building a reputation as an elegant batsman, it was his off-spin bowling that earned him the call-up when England were left reeling from the surprise retirement of Graeme Swann. While many critics dismissed him as a “part-time” bowler, Moeen had a record to compare with the best in county cricket over recent seasons. He had also developed a doosra after working with his friend and sometimes Worcestershire teammate, Saeed Ajmal. But it was his batting that stood out during his early Test appearances. He made an outstanding, unbeaten century in his second Test, at Leeds, as England went within two balls of saving the series and while he did unveil the first doosra bowled by an England spinner in the same game, he struggled to offer his captain the requisite control in the field with his bowling in his first three Tests. That changed in training for the Lord’s Test against India.
Encouraged by teammate Ian Bell over the need to bowl quicker to survive in international cricket, Moeen benefited from a chance conversation from former Test off-spinner Kumar Dharmasena, an umpire in the series and an on-looker at an England training session, who provided technical advice as to how to achieve the extra pace without losing any flight. It was to prove a pivotal meeting. Moeen was tighter at Lord’s, devastating in Southampton and excellent at Old Trafford as he finished the series with 19 wickets; the fourth highest haul any spinner had claimed against India in a Test series outside the subcontinent and the best since 1967 when Ray Illingworth bowled 30 more overs and claimed one more victim.
While he struggled to recapture his batting form in Test cricket, he took his chance when promoted to the top of the order in the ODI side by hitting the third fastest century by an England player in Colombo and ended the year a regular in all formats.
He had looked destined for such success for some time. Signed by Warwickshire as a 15-year-old, he made a century on first-class debut against Cambridge MCCU (he remains the second youngest man to score a first-class half-century for the club) and Championship debut against Nottinghamshire but was dropped for the next game on both occasions. He also captained England U19 to the semi-final of the 2006 World Cup, blasted a 56-ball century in an U19 Test against Sri Lanka and, as a 14-year-old, smashed 195 not out in a Twenty20 match for his under-15 club side Moseley Ashfield. The next highest score was 11.
But, frustrated by a lack of opportunity at Warwickshire during Mark Greatbatch’s ill-fated reign as coach of the club, he left for local rivals Worcestershire at the end of 2006 and was a key part of the team that won the Pro-40 title in 2007. It included a 46-ball century against Northants in 2007; there had, at the time, been only one faster List A century made in England in matches involving two first-class counties.
There were setbacks. Trying to combat a tendency to nick off, he went through a period of batting like Shivnarine Chanderpaul and went through a period of leaving balls that hit his off stump instead.
But he made 1,270 runs at 47.03 in 2010 and 1,375 runs at 62.50 in 2013 – the year he won the PCA’s most valuable player award – as he augmented his flair with increased discipline outside off stump. And, all the time, he was working on his off-spin, claiming 33 wickets at 29.00 in 2012 and 28 at 33.71 a later year.
It was enough to earn him an England call-up for the ODI series in the West Indies at the start of 2014 and the World T20 in Bangladesh a few weeks later.
His older brother, Kadeer, played for Worcestershire, Gloucestershire and Leicestershire while their cousin, Kabir was once a team-mate of Moeen’s at Worcestershire, and was the first of the family to play international cricket.
Moeen’s development had a significance beyond the playing field. Taking on the mantle of role-model for fellow British Asians – a sector of society that county cricket has not always encouraged as it might have done – he also talked eloquently of his Muslim faith and grew perhaps the most noticeable in English cricket since the days of WG Grace. He became known fondly as “the beard that’s feared” at New Road.
- right-arm, off-spin
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- place of birth
- Birmingham, Warwickshire
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- Brother Mo
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- Kookabura 2.10
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- wccc debut