Moeen Ali was a magnificent malleable peg who filled countless holes in the England Test team

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We’ve often joked about Moeen Ali’s willingness to take on any pretty much any job for England. Any format, any role, bat or ball, Moeen would give it a go. This means there’s quite a lot of ‘what might have been’ in response to his retirement from Test cricket. But it’s worth setting that idea in context before then making an effort to instead celebrate ‘what was’.

As we put it in the article linked above, England really valued Moeen’s ability to uncomplainingly turn his hand to literally bloody anything. This both helped and hindered him.

He batted in every position from one to nine and this week told the Guardian and Cricinfo that he wishes he could have had more of a run in one position.

But then he also concedes that he wasn’t able to work on his batting so much during the times when his bowling was seen as the more useful string to his bow. And with regards to his record as Bowling Ali, he says: “Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought I would get nearly 200 Test wickets.”

So while he says he felt he could have been more ‘on it’ with the bat, he clearly feels something akin to the reverse about his bowling.

And that’s the nature of being an all-rounder really.

Moeen got to do a lot more Test bowling than he otherwise would have done because he could bat. And he also played a great many more Test innings because he could bowl. There’s much to be gained from buying twice as many tickets.

Maybe he could have specialised more and become a better batter. Maybe he could have gone the other way and become a better bowler. But who’s to say that either approach would have made for a more fulfilling and satisfactory career? Is there not something to be said for the breadth and excitement of the taster menu?

With a batting average of 28 and a bowling average lurching towards 37, Moeen Ali’s Test record is ostensibly unremarkable. But these figures really mask the highs.

Moeen’s first Test hundred was just about as good as you get and he hit four others. He also took five five-fors and a pissing hat-trick. That’s a fair whack of good days. When we contrived The Hundreds and Five-Fors Rating in 2017, we argued that he was actually England’s best player. His fielding’s worth a mention too being as he’s the proud owner of one of the safer pairs of hands around.

That’s a really good career to have to your name, isn’t it? Rather than looking back and seeing an endless morass of forgettable fifties, Moeen can say: “Remember that time I blew Virat Kohli’s mind by bowling him through the gate first ball?” Or: “Remember that time I inexplicably left a Nathan Lyon straight ball and it knocked back my off stump?”

These are great and memorable moments. Moeen Ali didn’t tie up an end; he bowled to take wickets. He didn’t wring out all the runs he might have done, but he took a massive great backswing and used his willowy spaghetti arms to scythe fours and sixes with more liquid style than any other England batter of his era.

If you stop to think what you hope to get out of the game as a fan, it’s hard to argue that Moeen Ali didn’t do his bit.

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  1. Mo is just the best. That’s all you need to do in terms of career evaluation. Just know that.
    I saw a video of him doing a “rapid fire 60 seconds quiz” once:
    “Best film?”
    “Pfft. Predator! Classic innit?”

    And another one where he and Broad went to a primary school and did a Q&A with the kids.
    “What would you do if you weren’t a cricketer?”
    Broad: Something fairly middle-class and sensible that I can’t remember
    Mo: I always wanted to open a chip shop where I live. (gestures with his arm to indicate the sign above the premises: “Brother Mo’s”.

    He’s just the best.

  2. So you’re sort of saying Moeen’s Test career is like buying two pints of different beer instead of a single pint of one of them* – at the end, one of the two halves will be better and you might wish you’d ordered a full pint of that one, but on the other hand if you’d just ordered a pint there’s chance you’d have had a full pint of the less good one.

    *Except at a beer festival, always order “halves” (which are frequently more like two-thirds of a pint) at a beer festival

    1. Two HALF pints instead of a single pint.

      I promise I’d had neither a pint nor two halves before typing that comment….

  3. Somewhere out there is a world in which Moeen played in a team with a fixed top four and a weakness in the middle order. There’s by all accounts a good chance that Moeen would have much more flattering (some might say more accurate) career statistics than this one.

    There’s also a world out there in which Moeen played in a team with Graeme Swann and was played primarily as a batsman. In that world, he’d probably have a better batting average, but he might also have played far fewer Tests.

    Being a malleable peg is a double-edged sword at times.

  4. Would have been great to see him as captain, too. Lovely Joe Root is great at the Gareth Southgatey parts of the job, but he’s never seemed very good at the Steve Waugh bits. No evidence at all for this, but Moeen seems like he would have been rather better. And almost certainly more interesting.

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