Moeen Ali is the missing piece in England's world-beating T20 team

Tim Wigmore
·3-min read
Moeen Ali - PA
Moeen Ali - PA

After their clinical 3-0 victory in South Africa, there are only two shames for England. The first is that, thanks to Covid-19, they still have to wait a year until the T20 World Cup. The second is that, while Australia were due to host this year’s T20 World Cup, the next tournament will be in India, which will require a subtle change of tactics from the method which worked sumptuously in South Africa.

The change, essentially, is that England will need more spin bowling: in India seldom, if ever, will they be able to go into a game with Adil Rashid as the sole spinner. And so the XI that bested South Africa so impressively will need to be tweaked.

The player who England could most do with fit and in form is obvious: Moeen Ali. As an off spinner, Moeen would complement Rashid ideally, especially given his comfort taking the new ball to turn the ball away from left-handed openers. He also brings explosiveness with the bat — particularly against spin, meaning he could be promoted up the order to target spin in the middle overs. 

A side with Moeen at his best in it — probably replacing Tom Curran from the XI who played in South Africa — would be brimming with batting and bowling options. Moeen would slot in at seven, with Sam Curran below him at eight. The attack would include express pace, left-arm swing, off spin, leg spin and Chris Jordan’s death-bowling prowess: a combination ideally suited to exploit favourable match-ups, especially with Ben Stokes able to slot in as the sixth bowling option.

The snag is Moeen’s own form. Anyone can endure a poor IPL campaign — Moeen was dismissed three times in his 11 balls while bowling only five overs. As a cricketer who has always relied on the rhythm of playing, the world of bio-secure bubbles has been particularly difficult for Moeen, preventing him from playing enough cricket in recent months.

Yet Moeen’s poor T20I returns long predate Covid-19. Since the start of 2018, he has figures of 2-230 from 21.2 overs in T20Is, offering neither wicket-taking threat not control. The decline in his bowling in the format is reflected in how he has only bowled six overs in his past seven T20Is, suggesting that he is viewed primarily as a match-up option rather than a frontline bowler in the format. If Stokes is bowling at his best the two should be able to share a four-over allocation between them, as they did during the last T20 World Cup four years ago. But there will be times during the World Cup when eight overs of high-class spin are a non-negotiable.

England still have almost a year to go until picking their World Cup squad and yet, while their options elsewhere increase, their spin options seem to be dwindling. An injury to Rashid before the World Cup would be calamitous; but even if he continues his brilliant form of 2020, England will need to offer him some proper support. 

Leg spinner Mark Parkinson was not taken to South Africa at all; Liam Dawson, considered the perennial reserve spin-bowling all rounder hasn’t played for England in any format for 26 months and is now injured. Left-arm spinner Danny Briggs, who played seven T20Is for England from 2012-14 and is still only 29, enjoyed an impressive T20 Blast campaign and could further his claims in the Big Bash. Surrey’s Will Jacks and Joe Root both offer options as top order batsmen who can bowl useful off spin, but neither have anything like Moeen’s pedigree as a bowler. 

And so, for all England’s formidable depth in other areas, nothing would buttress their squad for a World Cup in India quite like Moeen at his best. Whether he can find it may go a long way to determining whether England return from India in a year’s team as the first men’s team in history to hold the ODI and T20 World Cups simultaneously.