How long until someone suggests Moeen Ali is battling to keep his Test spot?

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Photo by Sarah Ansell

It feels like one of those rare moments when very few people are talking about whether or not Moeen Ali will be able to keep his place in the England side. While many all-rounders benefit from being able to contribute in two separate disciplines, the beardster always seems to be viewed as someone who has been underperforming in one or the other.

You’ve got a pet favourite batsman from the County Championship? Maybe he should be playing instead of Moeen Ali. You fancy the look of a new young spinner? He’s probably a better bet than Moeen Ali.

Meanwhile, England keep on picking him and he keeps on contributing something or other in every match he plays. As well as the ten wickets and the 87 runs in the first innings of the first Test against South Africa, our man also took a couple of blinding catches. It’s all part of the job – if only because everything’s part of Moeen Ali’s job.

We reckon that a match-winning performance like this should be sufficient to buy Moeen a period of grace of approximately one Test match. After that, someone somewhere will again deem him to be under pressure.

Moeen doesn’t care. He’ll turn away from it all like a blind man and then – same as he’s done many times before – do something, anything, to earn himself one more chance.

These last chances are really stacking up for the lad. We wouldn’t bet against him stringing a hundred of them together.


Mike Gatting wasn't receiving the King Cricket email when he dropped that ludicrously easy chance against India in 1993.


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  1. “… but there’s a lot of praise for a guy who has only got his bowling average under 40 in this innings”

    Was a comment on Cricinfo yesterday. Even that one test grace period is looking shaky if you ask me.

    1. To be (equally un)fair, the same match featured comments about how Ben Stokes is overrated and Woakes should kick him out of the team when fit.

      Although Moeen’s now higher than Stokes in the all-rounder rankings, and as everyone knows Moe’s mediocre, so maybe they have a point.

      1. Our official editorial position on this is that Moeen, Stokes and Woakes are all magnificent cricketers.

        Whenever anyone says that Joe Root is England’s “best player” we wonder to ourself whether all three might actually be better than him, what with being able to bowl half-decently as well as bat.

        Then we think ‘Root should bowl more’.

      2. I don’t know KC, Root’s just phenomenal. There is almost a sense of inevitability about his run making these days.

      3. Test cricket isn’t “most runs wins” so we will never side with a batsman on this one.

      4. I know the point you’re making, but I’d say that number of runs is a significant factor in success or otherwise in test cricket, or any other form for that matter…

        England have a wealth of riches in the all-rounder dept (if you include wicket-keeper batsmen in that category) such that it more resembles a squash club ladder – one leapfrogs another(s) and this process repeats. I fear that with Bairstow displaying such form with both bat and gloves, and Buttler seemingly second-choice stumper, and the injury-prone nature of the others, that the Stokes Woakes Foakes dream is getting further and further away.

      5. We just think that if one fella makes, say, one sixth or one seventh of a team’s runs and another fella takes one fifth or one sixth of the team’s wickets and also scores a tenth of their runs, then the second guy is a better player.

      6. All-rounders by definition ought to be “better all round players” than specialists.

        One of the many wonderful things about cricket is that it is a team sport with many, varied and yet overlapping disciplines.

        This allows debates of this kind to go on endlessly and (with all due respect) somewhat pointlessly.

        The scope for endless vaguely interesting and yet mostly pointless debates is another of the many wonderful things about cricket.

        I could go on.

      7. Perhaps it’s easier to think in terms of, ‘Who would England miss most if they got injured?’

        Root, sure, huge loss. Stoneman, maybe? Westley? Foakes even? None of them close. But one of them would come in without changing the bal(l)ance of the side much. Lose Moe or Stokes, especially in addition to Woakes, and you have to rejig everything.

        But now Root is captain, so you’d have to have Stokes coming in as captain which would muck things up… argh! Not as easy as I thought it’d be when I started this comment.

        Clearly the only sensible answer is that Gary Ballance is the most valuable player in the team, because you can’t say ‘give Ballance a bowl’ if he’s not available to bowl.

      8. Again, all-rounders are, more or less by definition, harder to replace than specialists.

        England are blessed at the moment by having so many players who fall into the genuine all-rounder category…

        …which, strangely, makes each of those all-rounders slightly less indispensable than yer average all-rounder.

        Hence your point, Balladeer, about the nightmare scenario of losing “Stokes as well as Woakes.”

        We’ll miss this problem/risk when it’s gone, that’s for sure.

      9. I had come to the conclusion that Swann was going to leave a big hole in the team … but in the end he has effectively been replaced – quite effectively – by rebalancing the side. Which shows that these “how hard would it be to replace…” calculations are harder to work out the machinations of than they sound.

  2. He played well, but you know, what with one thing and another, on balance and so on, I would suggest that he is battling to keep his test spot.

    1. Clearly we’re no seer. Despite having tentatively reached the conclusion that we were on another website earlier today.

      1. Presumably the naysayers will be basing their recent assessment on performance in the Champions Trophy and will site Moeen’s present glory purely on the unusual state of the wicket at Lord’s? Anyway, I like watching him play and hope he has a long career, yips free. It was great cricket on Sunday at Lord’s. I met Ged there, briefly. He was . . . perhaps I should write a brief match report.

  3. The problem is with the definition of an “All-Rounder”. This, in modern cricket, is widely interpreted to mean exactly what KC articulated above in the Comments section “takes a few wickets and gets a few runs” etc. This is perfectly okay for T20 and one-day matches, but test cricket is a different beast. There were not many all-rounders in the past – the few that were around (Kapil, Imran, and that outlier Sobers) were good enough in just one department to be qualified for test cricket. Perhaps I am not very modern, but I think the question to ask is if the person is good enough as a batsman/bowler alone to find a place in the team. Anything he does in the other department is a bonus, and if he does a half-decent job at it, he can be an “All-Rounder”. Sehwag by that definition is a much better all-rounder than Ravi Jadeja.

    1. Agreed, DC.

      A bloke who “takes a few wickets and gets a few runs” is a bits and pieces player, not an all-rounder.

      “Worth his place for one of the disciplines and contributes to more than one” is at least a bit-of-an all-rounder, usually given the prefix of his main discipline; batting-all-rounder or bowling-all-rounder.

      Genuine all-rounders, worth their place for more than one of the disciplines alone, are rare. But England are getting that way with Stokes, Woakes and Ali.

      Also in the wicket-keeping department, Bairstow really is (in my view) worth his place in the top five batting regardless of gloves, which would allow us also to play Foakes if we wish, as long as we think the latter is better with the gloves and/or worth his place in the side for batting alone.


      But these extremely valuable test players are also valuable as franchise T20 players, so they will need looking after if we want them to play test matches while reaping the rewards available globally for their supreme talent.

  4. Another way of looking at it would be the individual players ability to make match winning contributions. By that standard Root is generally more likely to give you a match winning contribution that Mo i would argue (last test and one or two others no doubt excepted). Just by sheer consistency alone really.

    Would Ali be picked as a spinner if he could bat as well as Tuffers – probably not, and would he bat in the top six if he couldn’t bowl – possibly although might lose out thanks to the permutations eslewhere.

    Others above make excellent points on what constitutes an all rounder to which i agree and I would argue the closest we have to a Botham figure is Stokes but even he probably wouldn’t get picked for his bowling alone. Therefore we have many batsman who bowl and bowlers who bat, and keepers who bat etc who between them balance the side well but are sometimes not top class in either discipline.

    Therefore in this pointless argument I would argue that Root or Stokes are more valuable by a small margin than the others but being a team game and balance being needed that Ali right now is right up there in terms of crucial cricketers for England.

    Ballance not so much.

    1. ps i only mean pointless argument in terms of my contribution to it – not the piece in general which i agree with!

    2. “Another way of looking at it would be the individual players ability to make match winning contributions” – I actually think this is a better definition of all-rounder than “worthy of place in the team for either skill-set” (which strikes me as too restrictive, only the most outrageously talented would qualify) or “worthy of place in the team for one skill-set, contributes with the other” (too woolly and inclusive depending on what “contributes” means, and also rules out the better “bits and pieces” cricketers who would just miss out on selection for either discipline alone, but are still worth 0.75 + 0.75 = 1.5 players in your 11, which is better than e.g. a full-batsman-and-quarter-bowler’s 1.00 + 0.25 = 1.25).

      For what it’s worth, England have quite a roster of batsmen and batting-capable all-rounders, though competition for places has decreased with the retirement of Trott, Taylor and (in the spinning all-rounder category) Ansari, and while the likes of Carberry, Bell, Lyth, Samit, Robson, Hales, Vince, Borthwick, Buttler and Compton are still about, they do not seem in any selectorial favour. Nevertheless, Hameed and Rashid are waiting in the wings (in the sense the selectors do genuinely seem to like them, but are apparently waiting for some additional reason to pick them), while some of the younger ones from the unfavoured list could easily make a comeback. I think it is far from certain that Ali would be an automatic England selection if he only had one discipline on offer. At the very least, if he either developed the yips or underwent a Broadesque decline in his batting – and I fervently hope neither outcome comes to pass – it seems quite likely he’d be displaced from the team sheet by someone like Rashid, without in turn being able to displace a batter or bowler to get his spot back for his remaining discipline alone. At the very least he’d be in a proper scrap for a place. Yet it is clear to me that Ali is uncontentiously genuine all-rounder, so the fact he might be marginal for “worthy of the spot for one skill alone, contributes with the other” suggests that definition is in this case too tight.

      For me an all-rounder (batting/bowling, as opposed to batting/keeping or even fielding/A.N. Other, which open up whole new debates) is someone who is good enough with each discipline that they could win you the match with either their batting or their bowling. That’s not the same as saying they would necessarily merit selection for that discipline alone, because other players may be able to perform that role more consistently and craft match-winning performances more often. But it does mean their “contribution” isn’t some wishy-washy thing like battling twenties and thirties, or taking a few overs to ease the workload of the bowlers. They must be good enough, even with the weaker discipline, to have the capability to grasp a game by the scruff or the neck and redirect its course. Ali and Stokes easily qualify on that score. Woakes probably should too, though would be nice to see him bat more – there’s more to come than that top score of 66. But it is still a sufficiently strict definition to exclude Root, even though we enjoy his bowling, or in his current state, Broad, even though we enjoy it (with fond memories of what could have been) when he has a good hit-about.

  5. Despite the fact they still haven’t worked out exactly what he is, I would argue England would miss Ali more than anyone bar maybe Root. Woakes is injured at present, and the team seems fairly well balanced still. If Stokes were injured, you could either replace him with Woakes or pick just a batsman (as improving as his batting is, I’m actually not convinced England would miss Stokes’ bowling at all to be honest).

    With no Ali, there are quite a few questions – who bats at 7? Do you pick Dawson, or do you have to drop him to bring in a “proper” spinner? Switch to 5 seamers, or pick another batsman? Possibly you would move Dawson into the Ali batting role, and perhaps Rashid in for the new Ali “try and get them out every ball” role, but that feels like a bit of disaster waiting to happen.

    England would miss Stokes as a batsman without question, but if something happened and he couldn’t bowl any more I’m not sure it would be that much of a blow. Woakes batting is a handy bonus at what might be number 9 when he comes back. Ali, however, has consistently churned out runs for 18 months now, and I’m not sure you can categorically say there is a better spinner in the country.

  6. I’m sure given time, someone could construct a devilishly complex system to rate all players out of 20 (being composed of two perfect tens for each of batting and bowling – i.e. Bradman and Warne rolled into one player) to assess a player’s overall value – a natural extension of the 0.75+0.75=1.5 players thinking outlined above. Half points would be allowed. Various other factors could be considered to augment a score e.g. fielding ability, slip-catching, captaincy skills, leadership etc. Heck, comedy bowling value must be worth a half point (Cook, Vince, Ballance etc). Theoretical (‘on-paper’) ability, previous ‘contributions’, high scores, 50-to-100 conversion, scoring rate, and evidence-based things like ability to read and play to differing match situations, suitability for role/batting position, flair/watchability, opening/first-change bowler and myriad other attributes could be factored in.

    On this basic, Root would be maybe 9 for batting and perhaps 3 for bowling (might feasibly be more in limited overs though); maybe add a couple of points for captaincy = 14/20

    Mo perhaps a 6.5 for batting and 7 for bowling, and probably worth an extra point for catching = 14.5/20

    So yeah Mo’s better. But only just.

    Also thinking that it’s easier for a bowler to become a ‘bowling all-rounder’ than it is for a batsman to become a batting all-rounder and the former is more valuable as you’ll not take a lot of wickets in tests with a team chock full of bits n pieces players, as you need genuinely good bowlers to get good batsmen out but a team of BnPs (need a better acronym) could probably still get a half-decent total together.

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