Moeen Ali Shows Potential to Offer England Spin and Balance After Graeme Swann

Chris BradshawFeatured ColumnistJuly 31, 2014

England's Moeen Ali celebrates bowling out India's Mohammed Shami, during the fifth and final day of the third cricket test match of the series between England and India at The Ageas Bowl in Southampton, England, Thursday, July 31, 2014. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
Matt Dunham/Associated Press

So, England's spin-bowling cupboard may not be so bare after all. Moeen Ali showed that he was more than just a part-timer by bagging a six-wicket haul in England's 266-run win over India in the third Test at Southampton.

The Worcestershire all-rounder now has 18 Test wickets at an average of 32.11 from his first five Test appearances. Throw in a century with the bat and it marks a highly encouraging start to a Test career.

To put that start into perspective, after five Tests Graeme Swann had 27 wickets at 28.63 and Monty Panesar 10 wickets at 44.10.

There may have been a hint of fortune with Moeen's two dismissals in the first innings at Southampton as Ajinkya Rahane and Rohit Sharma virtually gave their wickets away. There was nothing but skill on show in the second innings, though, as Moeen found enough turn and bounce to trouble all the Indian batsmen.

There has been much talk about Moeen's ability to bowl the doosra, but on an Ageas Bowl pitch that offered just enough assistance, no mystery was required. Put the ball on a nagging length just outside off stump and let the pitch do the rest.

The 27-year-old did just that and reaped the rewards to claim a maiden five-wicket haul in Test cricket.

Even Piers Morgan, not a man which much good to say about the current England regime, was impressed: 

BOOM! Superb bowling by Moeen Ali. He's a terrific cricketer. #EngvInd

— Piers Morgan (@piersmorgan) July 30, 2014


How Has Moeen Developed?

In his fledgling career at the highest level, Moeen has already shown signs of development. One area where that is apparent is in the pace at which he bowls.

As the Sky Sports graphic shows, Moeen upped his speed at the Ageas Bowl, finding the right pace for the pitch: 

A look at the speed of Moeen Ali's bowling at @HomeOfCricket and @TheAgeasBowl. #EngvInd

— Sky Sports Cricket (@SkyCricket) July 31, 2014

During the Sri Lankan series, the man from Birmingham spent much of the time bowling round the wicket at right-handers. That style has worked well enough for Australia's Nathan Lyon, but to consistently take wickets, off-spinners must be able to work from both sides of the crease. Moeen did just that at Southampton.

One man who does appear to have bought into Moeen is captain Alastair Cook. England's spinner was given far fewer overs than the seamers during his opening few appearances (28 overs compared to 50 for James Anderson, for example in the first Test against Sri Lanka).

The captain showed far more confidence in Southampton, throwing him the ball after just 12 overs in India's second innings. Moeen justified that trust by taking his wickets in the India series to 15. Few will have expected that at the start of the series.


How Can He Improve?

While Moeen has shown plenty of promise in his first few appearances, there are some areas that could be improved.

With Anderson and Stuart Broad bowling more overs than any other players in Test cricket over the past year, England need a spinner who can tie up an end and give the quicks a rest.

Moeen hasn't quite managed that yet. The maidens column again remained at zero during India's first innings at Southampton.

Taking wickets should always be the priority for any bowler, and when conditions are in his favour, Moeen has shown he can do just that.

With the bat, the 27-year-old has shown he has the temperament for the highest form of the game. He has been troubled by the short ball, though, and is likely to be targeted in that area by bowlers much quicker than those on show from India and Sri Lanka.


What Next?

If Moeen is to thrive it will be part of a team effort. Scoreboard pressure allowed Cook to set attacking fields in the third Test. A top-order consistently scoring runs makes life much easier for the bowlers, and he'll need some leeway for the occasional half-tracker and full toss.

Having a player who can score centuries and take five wickets in an innings opens up plenty of possibilities for the England team. Picking five bowlers should ease the workload on the quicks and gives the selectors the option of making a “horses for courses” pick, should conditions suit.

England supporters may not yet be saying “Graeme Who?” but more performances like this, and Moeen Ali will become a crucial member of Cook's new-look team.