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Moeen Ali – The off-spinner who comes alive against India in England

On 9th August, Moeen Ali was leading Birmingham Phoenix against Welsh Fire in The Hundred competition. Batting at number three, he struck 59 off 28 balls and later claimed a wicket. In three day’s time, he stepped out to represent England in a Lord’s Test. He was making a comeback to the longest format after almost two years but he was up against his favourite enemy, India.

India’s nemesis

The Indian team is often touted to be the best batting side against spin of all kinds. And the off-spin has been going out of the fashion in the recent era. With leg-spinners and mystery spinners taking over, the off-spinners have gone on the backfoot. And yet it is Moeen Ali who continues to trouble India and that too in non-spin-friendly conditions of England.

Moeen’s first impressive performance came up at Southampton in the 2014 tour. In the third Test of the series, India needed to chase down 445 runs. As India prepared themselves to fight for a draw, Ali removed the batting pillars as he sent back Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli. On the fifth day, he ran through the Indian tail and finished with a spell of 6/67. In the following Test on the same tour, Ali’s 4/39 in the second innings helped England claim a victory by innings.

The Southampton Test in 2018 was a close affair but it was Moeen Ali who tipped the game in England’s favour. His 5/63 in the first innings meant India could get a lead of only 25 runs. His 4/71 when India were chasing 245 runs allowed England to pounce on the opposition and earn a handsome victory. Thus it was no surprise that England chose to recall the office when they needed an all-round spin option.

Back to his best

In the ongoing Lord’s Test, England going in with four seamers did not need to rely on Ali for wickets in the first innings. It was in the second innings that he gave his crucial input. Ajinkya Rahane looked solid at the crease against pace bowlers but it was the offie who made his hop and skip. Ali dismissed Rahane who had scored 61 at that point and then bowled a beautiful delivery to send back dangerous Ravindra Jadeja.

When asked about his aspirations in red-ball cricket, Ali replied, “I’m happy with myself, I’m happy with the way I’m playing… I’m not taking it too seriously anymore; I’m going to enjoy it. I know there will be bad days, plenty of bad days in a series and I know there will be good days. I just wanted to be part of this series and do well, take wickets and a few runs, hopefully, get some more runs. I feel all right with the bat so I’m just enjoying my cricket. It’s more about enjoying myself and trying to enjoy the challenge as much as I could.”

Switching from The Hundred mode to a Lord’s Test in a matter of days must have been very difficult for Moeen Ali but he has pulled off the transformation seamlessly. Whether he will continue to torment his favourite opposition in Tests to come remains to be seen.

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