Investigating Moeen Ali Against the Short Ball & His Role in England's Test Team

Freddie WildeContributor IAugust 8, 2014

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 08:  Moeen Ali of England is bowled by Varun Aaron of India during day two of 4th Investec Test match between England and India at Old Trafford on August 8, 2014 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)
Gareth Copley/Getty Images

Freddie Wilde investigates two areas of debate surrounding Moeen Ali following another low score.  

Moeen Ali's Technical Problems

Things change when you get to international cricket. Bowlers are quicker, smarter and better prepared. India's bowling attack will have analysed hours of footage of Moeen Ali in county cricket, and with the world's best analysts alongside them, they will have formulated a number of plans to counter him.

Plans that, as international bowlers, they'll certainly be more efficient at executing than those Ali will have encountered in county cricket. 

It is certainly the case that Ali has a problem against the short ball. He's now been dismissed a number of times against it in his fledgling Test career. Too regularly he turns his head and eyes away from the ball at impact, retaining little control over the shot—hence the ball regularly flying off the edge of his bat into no man's land.

It is not at all rare for batsmen to encounter problems against the short ball in their careers; after all, it's a difficult ball to face. But especially soon after ascending to Test level, the extra pace and aggression of the bowlers can manifest itself as a problem where previously there wasn't one. 

Ali has got to decide whether he is going to take on the short ball or not.

So far in his Test career, he has appeared to be a compulsive hooker, someone who naturally likes to attack a ball banged in halfway down. However, considering his poor returns with such an approach, he may have to accept that he hasn't got the reflexes or control to do so successfully—especially when you consider the bowlers who he has been getting out to against the short ball haven't even been express pace.

Wait until he faces Mitchell Johnson!

Perhaps the best thing he could do is to stand in the nets and get out of the way of balls being hurled at him by batting coaches and from bowling machines. If you can get out of the way of a short ball, you won't get out against one. 

Sky Sports' commentary team did pick up on a second technical problem facing Ali.

Having clearly been roughed up by an excellent short ball from Varun Aaron, Ali was clean bowled by a full, in-swinging delivery—again not an easy ball to keep out. However, Sky isolated his unusually high back lift as a technical nuance that could cause him future trouble against similar balls, especially when he's camped on the back foot having faced a number of short balls. 

The high back lift makes it harder for Ali to jam his bat down on the full delivery. Bowling a full one after a short one is a classic fast bowler one-two, and it is not at all unusual for batsmen to struggle against it.

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - JULY 28:  England player Moeen Ali looks on whilst wearing his cap back to front  during day two of the 3rd Investec Test at Ageas Bowl on July 28, 2014 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Stu Forster/Getty Images

Although saying that, one thing Ali could do to compensate is lower his centre of gravity slightly. Currently Ali has a very upright stance in the crease, which is largely why he is so good to watch: standing tall he can get on his toes and punch well off the back foot.

However, were he to just lower his centre of gravity, flex his legs and tense his core, resting on the balls of his feet, he would find it easier to spring back or forward. It almost becomes a coil effect.

And this would go someway to mitigating the difficulties of coping with a short and then a full ball. 

Moeen Ali's Changing Role in the Side

Of course, it would be great for Ali to fix the technical problems he is facing and become the prolific scorer his county record and indeed his ability has at times suggested. Indeed, his Test hundred against Sri Lanka was an innings of immense quality and displayed the mental toughness that could see him score thousands of runs for England.

However, following his superb performance with the ball at the Ageas Bowl, there are whispers that his batting may not matter so much if he continues to bowl well. 

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - JULY 30:  England bowler Moeen Ali in action during day four of the 3rd Investec Test  match between England and India at Ageas Bowl on July 30, 2014 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Stu Forster/Getty Images

Indeed, it seems only recently that it was Ali's runs that were going to save him from being dropped, but if he can become a consistent wicket-taker for England that may well change. If Ali was to become a genuine front-line spinner, then he could offer England immense batting depth at number eight in the order, freeing up another batting slot in the process. 

I would suggest that this is unlikely. Not only is Ali not naturally a good enough spinner to become a consistent front-line option—he bowls too many four balls right now— but his batting, despite his technical challenges, is good enough for him to remain at number six. 

It is most likely that Ali becomes a genuine all-rounder, as a fifth rather than a fourth bowler.

All Test players face technical challenges during their career. Ali is facing one now, but if he works hard and England retain faith in him, there's no reason why his immense talent cannot see him through to the other side.