Approximately three weeks after being castigated by the former English skippers for what they said was a lack of respect for Test cricket, England made a strong comeback, beating the Proteas 3-1 to clinch the series.
Moeen Ali, the player of the series, was instrumental in changing the fortunes of the hosts over the course of a fortnight. Ali finished the series with a record first of 250 or more runs and 25 wickets in a four match series.
Root has been all praises for Moeen Ali © AFP
Ali has been praised unequivocally by the media as well his skipper and teammates. Moeen Ali delivered a consistent performance throughout the series that saw his name on the Lord’s honour boards with a ten-for in the first match. The second game at the Trent Bridge was one to forget for the hosts, but Ali was perhaps the only positive from the game, chipping in with four wickets.
The Oval Test was arguably the pinnacle of Moeen Ali’s Test career – claiming his first hat-trick in Test cricket in the 100th Test at the venue. The Worcestershire all-rounder continued his splendid form at Old Trafford, returning with the match figures of 7/126, including a five-for in the second innings.
Moeen chipped in significant contributions with the bat at critical moments throughout the Test series, including the much-needed 87 at Lord’s and 75* in a tricky situation at Old Trafford.
Selected as a batsman come part-time bowler, Moeen has come a long way to take the mantle of England’s lead spinner. But the aspect that England is blessed with is perhaps the presence of match-changing all-rounders in the middle and lower-middle order, including Ben Stokes, Moeen Ali and Chris Woakes.
While all is good at the lower-end of the middle-order, England have continued to struggle at the top and middle-order. The 11th partner of Alastair Cook has also failed despite the new England captain Joe Root rallying behind the youngster. Meanwhile, Alex Hales has smashed 95 off 30 in T20 Blast and 218 in County Championship within last week to give a reminder to the selectors, thus continuing this drama of musical chairs at the top.
While finding Cook’s partner is a worry, England’s worries have been compounded by the fragile middle-order. England started the series with Gary Ballance at number three, who failed to deliver and was dropped due to an injury after Trent Bridge disaster. While the replacement Tom Westley made significant scores to warrant another go, Dawid Malan had a nightmarish two games with the bat.
On the flipside, a below-par performance from the middle-order has given enough time to the lower-middle order, resulting in significant contributions with the bat.
With England hosting an inexperienced West Indian side at home for three Tests, time is rife for the hosts to cement the gaps for the all-important Ashes Down Under.
Former English skipper Nasser Hussain had decried the lack of contributions from the new-comers after the Trent Bridge drubbing of England. Two Tests later, nothing has changed in that regard as both the victories have become at the hands of the old guard, which could trouble England in the Ashes if the Aussies get Cook and Root out cheaply.
A look at Moeen’s bowling stats shows that much of his success with the ball has come at home – with the right arm spinner claiming 77 wickets in 25 game at an average of 32.42. On the other hand, Ali has been able to account for only 46 wickets in 16 games at 44.17.
Moeen’s record with the ball against the Aussies isn’t much significant either. Ali had claimed 12 wickets in 2015/16 Ashes at home at an untidy average of 45.50. Although Moeen might be flying to Australia on the back of a strong summer at home later this year, the Aussies will be well aware of the threat, keeping in view his below-par away record – especially against the South Asian nations as a benchmark.
The writer tweets @khaledumair