Moeen Ali and England’s yo-yos

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3 minute read

If there’s one thing we know about yo-yos, it’s that if you send one out, it tends to come back. If we know another thing about yo-yos, it’s that sometimes they get all tangled when they’re fully extended and don’t actually come back and then you have to spend ages unknotting them. What this means with regards to Moeen Ali, we’re not entirely sure.

Rotation policies aside, England have certain Test players who just get picked and it’s that simple. Joe Root and Ben Stokes get picked. Taken over a sufficiently long timespan, that’s actually about it.

Taken over a shorter timespan, most of the top order batsmen are consistently picked. James Anderson is generally picked too.

Recovery, prioritisation of certain matches and tactical deployment tend to blur the reasons underpinning non-selection for most of the other quick bowlers, while a reluctance to unbalance the side by playing any kind of spin bowler tends to do for Jack Leach.

Then there are the yo-yos. These are players who aren’t merely edged out every once in a while. Instead they oscillate wildly between being sure-fire picks and outcasts. They come and go and come and go and stay gone but then come back before going again. These players are unusual in that they are definitely, unequivocally dropped – completely left out of the squad for an entire tour – before being miraculously restored when the stars align again.

England’s two standout yo-yos are Moeen Ali and Jonny Bairstow, but you could certainly argue for the inclusion of Jos Buttler and Chris Woakes in this category too.

A common attribute seems to be these players’ adaptability – their three-dimensionality, you might say. The ability to bowl or keep wicket in addition to batting means that each of these players can be earmarked for a greater number of ‘roles’. If you had the will and an awful lot a lot of time on your hands, you could create a magnificently informative spreadsheet detailing what exactly England had in mind for each of these players at different points in time and how they were measured according to those criteria.

Remember that time Jonny Bairstow was DEFINITELY England’s Test number three? Or that time he was DEFINITELY a specialist middle order batsman? Or that time he was DEFINITELY the wicketkeeper for the foreseeable future? Remember that time he was DEFINITELY dropped from the Test team only to earn a Test contract three days later?

Similarly, if you’ve got some random job that needs doing, why not see if Moeen Ali fancies stepping in?

As our Hundreds and Five-Fors rating proves, there are countless ways Moeen can add to a side. Sadly, as a corollary of that, there seem to be just as many ways in which he will fail to live up to selectors’ specific expectations at any given time meaning yet another dropping is rarely far away.

We like Moeen. We enjoy watching him play. The best thing about him being a yo-yo is that there’s always a good chance he’ll be back. The worst thing about him being a yo-yo is that whenever he does play his final Test, there’s a very good chance we won’t actually realise it at the time.

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Image: Yo-yo, CC licensed by Miguel via Flickr.


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  1. Big fan of Mo. But slogging himself silly for the Birmingham Butterkists is hardly preparation for a Test. Fear he’s heading for a fall once more.

    1. I can’t help but think Mo is only ever brought back to be a scapegoat. I love him, but this almost certainly isn’t going to work.

      Since I don’t have to watch it, I quite like the idea of Sibley, Burns and Hameed as a top three. Either they’ll be all out for 150 as per usual, or they’ll bat all day and get to about 25-1.

    2. You know, sometimes it works. Players find form in all sorts of ways. Some spend hours in the nets. Some stop playing altogether in the belief that they’ve picked up bad habits and that time off will help them reset.

      Some have a slog and find that loosening inhibitions for a period has helped them start moving more rhythmically and naturally again.

  2. He could replace anyone in the current side except Root without weakening the batting, and brings his bowling too. Seems an easy choice.

  3. Seems to suggest Silverwood has decided that actually everything isn’t all about the Ashes, given that Ali is surely not going to play in Australia. So that’s nice.

  4. My mum was seriously useful with a yo-yo, until her dotage deprived her of the muscle memory and motor skills. She attributed her yo-yoing ability to a misspent youth in the early 1930s.

    That anecdote has nothing whatever to do with the Moeen Ali analogy, unless we posit that so much time has passed since Moeen last played a test match that the requisite muscle memory and motor skills might have gobe.

    1. Think there was a craze for yo-yos back in the thirties wasn’t there? (I seem to recall a frustrated German submariner expressing his distaste at a shoddy yo-yo in Das Boot, which would have been an odd detail to include in a realism-oriented film if it hasn’t been a common pastime of thirties teenagers.) There was another yo-yo craze in the nineties. Which suggests that yo-yos themselves yo-yo in and out of fashion, like some kind of meta-metaphor of themselves.

  5. We haven’t had a full time spin bowler in a few tests and I don’t understand why an overcast test match at Lords is the time to reintroduce it. Not only that Mooen struggles like mad bowling to right handers and of India’s batting line up only Rishabh Pant isn’t a right hander.

    He hasn’t faced a red ball in anger since God was a lad and he surely isn’t going to the Ashes?

    1. Not expecting Lord’s to be overcast, Tom.

      Glorious weather today. Expecting no more than light clouds and plenty of sunshine here in London for the next week.

      1. Hmm. A bit gloomy this morning but I suspect that the cloud is lighter than it currently looks.

        The toss winner might be deceived into bowling this morning.

        Mind you, if India win the toss, bowling at England’s fragile top order early doors might be the right decision.

        I’ll be there. Daisy will be there…

  6. Makes you wonder why they bother announcing squads at all. What might have happened after the first test that made them think they may need a spinning all rounder?

    1. I think that’s Michael Vaughan pissing you off rather than Lord’s Sam. I know that being pissed off with Michael Vaughan is my default state.

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