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Moeen Ali is not a golf fan, and while that may not seem particularly newsworthy, it does put him in the minority among English cricketers.
The obsession with golf within cricket does makes sense: whether at home or on tour, there is ample time to kill and as golf incorporates some basic principles of the day job - hand-eye coordination, strong bases, a good swing, gentle goading - it is an understandable hobby to take up. Not for Moeen, though.
Golf days are a staple of professional cricket and, in Moeen's early days, he would reluctantly take part in a number of them. An ambivalence to the sport meant he never got very good, didn't care to get better and saw no value in learning more about the ins and outs of it. For instance, while preparing for one particular golf day put on by his county, Worcestershire, he decided to invest in kit. He ended up buying two golf gloves and questioned why they did not come in pairs.
But as he began consistently scoring runs and taking wickets as seasons came and went, he realised he could take some liberties as an established cricketer and avoid trudging around 18 holes skewing balls inside-out over cover and into the rough.
In 2012 the story goes that he played one hole of the club's golf event before he and Worcestershire's Australian overseas at the time Philip Hughes - a fellow golf dodger - managed to sneak off. That and similar tactics would be employed over the years to swerve similar events until he was faced with a conundrum upon being called up to the England squad for the first time in 2014.
At international level, the sponsors element to golf days make attendance mandatory. Such occasions are as much about networking with money men and women as it is about getting to know your teammates. So, wanting to make a good impression, Moeen called in a favour with his Worcestershire teammate Jack Shantry, who loaned him a set of clubs.
Upon picking them up, he was given a crash course in improving his swing on the road outside Shantry's home, wary of embarrassing himself. Events such as a day at the races were not avenues for hobnobbing because of his faith and so golf, for that moment, was a way to fit in.
That theme of fitting in continued into Moeen's on-field career. He has been open to all roles and whims, almost to a fault. In Tests, he has batted in every position from one to nine and operated as both the first, second and, heck, even third spinner.
Things have been just as skewed in one-day cricket. Only 21 of his 80 innings have come in his preferred position at the top of the order and all bar one of those has been overseas. Despite two of his hundreds coming after starting against the new ball, he has not occupied a top three spot since 2016. With ball in hand, he was pushed to be a wicket-taker and, though he enjoyed some success, occasionally found himself exposed when under pressure.
However, as time has gone on, it is the ODI format where he has been able to feel more at home and adapt. After 54 innings at number seven, he has embraced the role of finisher - notable examples including the second-fastest hundred by an Englishman off 53 balls in 2017 and Tuesday's nine-ball blitz against Afghanistan that reaped 31, the cherry on top of a remarkable innings that closed on 397 for six. And while his partner in crime Adil Rashid takes middle-over wickets, Moeen is happy to play the part of container and confidant to the leg spinner. The above is as much down to comfort as it is to becoming a respected part of the England set-up.
On Friday, Moeen will earn his 100th ODI cap. The journey which started back in 2014 at the age of 27 has not quite reached its end point, but this World Cup fixture against Sri Lanka marks a significant milestone that is not lost on the allrounder. Importantly that, beyond the statistics, he is a senior international cricketer. That golf or no golf, he has fit in just fine.
"I never, ever thought in my wildest dreams that I would get close to it," says Moeen of being on the cusp of the hundred mark.
"I was thinking about it this morning," starts Moeen," and how I never thought I'd be a senior player in a county side let alone the England side. "When you break into a county side that is your aim, so it is an incredible feeling to have achieved that with England."
"I was in a different situation back then coming into the side. I was young and when you first come in you just go with the flow and think that this is exactly how it is supposed to be."
It is no coincidence Moeen is perhaps the best representation of the vibrant nature of this side, with stroke-play that's often devastating and always gorgeous and a level of street smarts in the field. As England evolved from the 2015 World Cup, he has been on hand to help oversee it, playing 77 of the 93 ODIs they have played between now and then. And oversee it is absolutely right: because Moeen has always been *that* guy. He was a dasher before it was cool; a batting punk before it went mainstream. One who dared to fail - ignoring the glory when he didn't and ignoring the moments when he did.
"I remember going in to bat a few times and thinking 'I'm just going to play a few shots here'. And while that is how we do things now, back then that was a different way. I think Farby (former assistant Paul Farbrace), Trev (head coach Trevor Bayliss) and Morgs (limited overs captain Eoin Morgan) really changed the mindset of the players and when we decided that we were going to play that way, that was a much more natural way for me to play. That was how I wanted to play and it has been amazing since then."
"When I think of all the fun I've had, it is a great thing," he says. "I won't even look back at the number of caps when I'm done, I think the most important thing will be remembering all the fun I've had with the guys in the dressing room and the friends I've made.
"I'm 32 now and I feel it. Since that debut I feel it more now, I'm getting old. Obviously it is an amazing achievement for myself and in a blink of an eye it has gone so quickly."
Though he say he feels old, he certainly does not seem it. A second child arrived last week to age him further, but among his other duties away from home, he takes it upon himself to bring the comic relief to his work life. If there is something to be ridiculed in his teammates, Moeen will find it.
When Jonny Bairstow took a catch in the deep to dismiss Afghanistan's Rahmat Shah in the previous match, Moeen saw an opportunity to pull up the opening batsman for an over-the-top turn and double-fist pump towards the packed stand behind him at Old Trafford. "He gave it a bit too much with the celebration. You cannot get away with anything and I don't miss a trick. I do not miss a thing."
He really doesn't. But the ability to laugh at themselves is what keeps this crop of players level. Laughter dissipates the nerves, even in the tensest situation. Of course, this team did not get to the top of the ODI rankings or on the cusp of securing a semi-final spot in this World Cup without taking their cricket seriously. But sometimes, such as a couple of years ago, they have momentarily lost sight of the enjoyment that comes from playing the way they play.
"At the Champions Trophy we didn't do that towards the end and we probably took it a bit too seriously," admits Moeen, referencing the 2017 competition in which they lost to Pakistan in the semi-final.
"We know there are big pressure games to come, but we've spoken about this and in the T20 WC in India (where England reached the final) we literally had a laugh all the way through, we had such a good time.
"We have spoken about it and this time we want to stay true to ourselves even more as the pressure grows, both in the way we play and in the way we are as a team. We actually need to have more of a laugh and try to enjoy it as much as we can. We are only going to do this once and it is a great opportunity to win the World Cup at home."
Recently, piss-taking subject matter has included sixes. When Morgan struck 17 on Tuesday, few could dare challenge their captain for bragging rights. Well, apart from Moeen. As the dressing room was coming to terms with the audacity of their captain's innings, he interjected to inform them that Morgan may have hit the most, but it was, in fact, he who hit the furthest. "I felt the first one (I hit) off Rashid Khan was the biggest," he shares.
Naturally, the team will celebrate Moeen's century of caps. Even without the journey these players have enjoyed together, cricket and professional sport is too fickle to let sentiment govern who deserves a century of international appearances and who does not. Milestones like these should be revered by all.
Yet coming in the midst of England's best ever chance to lift the 50-over World Cup puts a different slant on things.
"As a team we know that a trophy matters for us. Hopefully this is it."
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