Chalk and cheese. Moeen Ali‘s recent form in Test and one-day cricket. After a forgettable Ashes, where he averaged 115 with the ball, Moeen is so confident after a change of formats that he feels he “can turn a game” with the white ball when the pressure is on.
Of course, the two skill sets are very different. In Tests, a batsman can sit and wait for the bad ball and a bowler has to prise them out whereas in the one-day game there are two ways to be successful – wickets and economy – with the batsman usually the first who needs to take a risk or change his approach. But it was important for England that Moeen’s problems in one format did not extend into another.
He has been a key figure in England’s continued one-day success, first in Australia and now in New Zealand where he took 3 for 36 – including two wickets in two balls – to spark a New Zealand collapse in Wellington alongside his close mate Adil Rashid.
Moeen, and Rashid, certainly had to deal with expectation in Wellington on a pitch that offered considerable help and with New Zealand ahead of the game, on 80 for 1, before spin started to make inroads. Moeen’s first ball, a big full toss, had been clobbered for six by Kane Williamson but after that it was an immaculate 10 overs, to follow a miserly spell in Mount Maunganui where he claimed 2 for 33. Though the runs have yet to really flow again with the bat, in eight ODIs against Australia and New Zealand he has taken 10 wickets and conceded 4.60 per over.
In Wellington he had Mark Chapman caught at point then trapped Tom Latham lbw first ball after DRS overturned a not out – “it looked out straightaway, but then I thought it might be umpire’s call,” Moeen admitted – before added Colin de Grandhomme when he lofted to long-on.
“We both knew we were the two guys who were going to win this game but I didn’t feel pressure to take wickets or anything like that,” Moeen said. “In one-day cricket lately I feel I’ve bowled quite well in Australia and I feel as though I can turn a game like that in terms of not just taking wickets but trying to bowl tight and then the wickets will come. A lot of the times they don’t come but I managed to get three quick wickets and the obviously Rash had two as well.”
There will be an indication of where Moeen’s Test game is at later this month in the two-match series which concludes the tour, but he did not wallow for long after averaging 19.88 with the bat and almost 100 more with the ball in the five Tests against Australia.
At a time when much is being made of the packed international schedule, with players opting out of first-class cricket and continued talk of burnout Moeen partly credited England’s non-stop international merry-go-around in helping him move on from a the difficulties of the Ashes – because there was no time to dwell on it.
“I didn’t have time to think too much about it with the one-dayers,” he said. “Once they were done I’d pretty much got over them to be honest with you. You’ve just got to try and move on and just look forward because we play so much cricket. You can’t afford to dwell on the Ashes. I know it’s a big series but it’s just a game of cricket at the end of the day. Ashes or no Ashes it’s Test cricket and you try to give your best. That’s all you can do.
“With the new players around and just the different type of characters, a bit more of a younger side, and knowing as a team we’re a lot more confident in the one-day white-ball stuff. You just feel you get energised a little bit after a difficult months and it’s good for anybody I guess.”
England were also pushed well out of their comfort zone in Wellington, an uneven pitch which took spin negating any big hitting. Eoin Morgan acknowledged England aren’t known for winning in such conditions and Moeen also saw it as a significant moment for the team.
“The most important thing for us was to win the game batting first on a tough wicket,” he said. “We can take a massive amount from that. I feel when we are chasing we can get anything – we believe that as a team – but batting first we can get better at setting a target. Defending these days is quite difficult.”
Conditions may challenge England in different ways as the series concludes on the South Island with two daytime matches, firstly in Dunedin and then in Christchurch. The weather is likely to be a touch cooler and the morning starts may offer encouragement to the seamers. But if it spin that’s needed, England have a confident pair to call on.