Sat, 23 Oct 2021

Moeen Ali to announce retirement from Test cricket

ESPNCricInfo
27 Sep 2021, 07:43 GMT+10

Moeen Ali, the England allrounder, is set to announce his immediate retirement from Test cricket.

Moeen, 34 and a veteran of 64 Tests, has decided he no longer has the hunger to play the longest format. In particular, ESPNcricinfo understands he is uncomfortable with the prospect of an extended time away from home in the coming months as a likely member of both the T20 World Cup and Ashes squads. He is currently in the UAE, playing for Chennai Super Kings in the IPL but is understood to have informed Chris Silverwood, the England head coach, and Joe Root, England's Test captain, in recent days.

He is keen to continue his career for England in white-ball cricket and is also expected to continue to play county and franchise cricket. It seems unlikely he will continue to play first-class cricket but no firm decision has yet been taken on that.

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People will, no doubt, be debating the merits of Moeen's career for years to come. Some of the statistics are arresting: he reached the landmark of 2000 Test runs and 100 wickets, for example, in fewer Tests than Ian Botham, Garry Sobers and Imran Khan. Only 15 England bowlers have taken more Test wickets. At his high point, he was rated the third best allrounder in the ICC's Test rankings.

But it's maybe fitting that he looks set to finish just short of 3000 runs and just short of 200 wickets. For there was something about Moeen that always left you wanting more. Something that delighted and frustrated in equal measure. Even in what turned out to be his final Test, when his skied slog-sweep saw him dismissed for 35, you could feel the groan of disappointment around The Kia Oval.

The will for Moeen to succeed, to see his elegant cover drive unfurled once more, was immense. Perhaps the fragility, the sense that it could all end at any moment, made it feel all the more precious.

At his best, such as when he scored four Test centuries in 2016, he looked a fine batter more than worth his place in the side as a specialist. But there were times, sometimes quite extended times, when the confidence seemed to drain away and the scores disappeared with it. A final Test batting average of 28 seems modest for one so talented. That unbeaten innings of 108 against Sri Lanka in his second Test promised so much more.

Many of the same things could be said about his bowling. At his best, such as when he took 25 wickets in four Tests against South Africa in 2017, or a haul of 32 wickets in six Tests against Sri Lanka and West Indies in the winter of 2018-19, he demonstrated the drift, dip, pace and bite that would delight any offspinner. It is telling that, of England spinners, only Derek Underwood and Graeme Swann finished their careers with more wickets. Even Jim Laker couldn't match Moeen's strike rate of 60.70.

On other occasions, such as the Ashes tour of 2017-18, when his five wickets came at a cost of 115 apiece, he seemed a man charged with an impossible task. Nobody else in the top 25 wicket-takers in England's Test history has an average as high as Moeen's 36.66. But in a weak era of English spin bowling, he answered the call more capably than anyone could have predicted. Ultimately, it may be concluded that he overachieved with the ball and underachieved with the bat.

The debate over whether England coaxed the best out of him will rumble on, too. Certainly he was asked to fulfil multiple roles - he batted everywhere from No. 1 to No. 9 - to accommodate the demands of more valued players. And while he produced some memorable lower-order innings, the mentality of batting with the tail changed him. He became a provider more of cameos than the substantial innings he dreamed of playing as a youngster.

Equally, the faint praise from Ed Smith, then the national selector, suggesting "the role of first-choice spinner might not be best suited to him" stung and, along with not being given a full central contract at the end of 2019, represented a turning point in Moeen's relationship with the team management. At the time he was dropped, after the first Ashes Test of the 2019 series, he had been the world's top wicket-taker in Test cricket over the preceding 12 months.

It remains to be seen whether any of Moeen's England colleagues follow suit with news of their own in the coming days. Certainly there are serious reservations from as many as 10 players and several more support staff about the prospect of further time in quarantine and the demands this could place on family life. If the cricket boards of England and Australia insist the Ashes go ahead at any cost, they will find themselves with a much diminished contest.

Such issues can wait. Now is the time to reflect on Moeen's legacy. With a hat-trick, five centuries, five five-fors and some sharp catches, he has been involved in some of the most thrilling moments of England's Test cricket over recent years. And, as a willing spokesperson for diversity and inclusivity, he has performed a valuable role in educating a generation that it is perfectly possible to be British, Muslim and proud of both. He reminded us, too, that cricket wasn't just a game of the public school playing field or village green, it was a game of the urban park or backyard, too. This may well be remembered as his most significant contribution to the sport.

Will he be remembered as a great of English cricket? Well, he comes from a background where his parents went without food to ensure money was found for travel to games and match fees. Now he's a World Cup winner with more than 200 international caps, a trunk full of awards and an IPL contract which will ensure that investment made by his family will pay off for generations to come. More than that, he has enjoyed a career which made many people smile and many more - not all of them from the traditional breeding grounds of English cricket - feel they could follow in his footsteps. That sounds pretty great, doesn't it?

Moeen AliEngland

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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