Cricket News By TODAYLIVESCORE.INFO - Moeen Ali - A player worth far more than bare statistics. There was frustration and disappointment at times when you watched Moeen Ali play but enough entertainment and joy to balance it out
There was frustration and disappointment at times when you watched Moeen Ali play but enough entertainment and joy to balance it out
Cricket has always been a game of numbers. Runs scored, wickets taken, balls bowled. The relatively recent advance of data analytics in cricket has only strengthened that relationship. Data and statistics are used to evaluate the relative merits of players more than ever before. If a player has a weakness, it is now easily highlighted in numeric form. But cricket isn't just a game of numbers. The career of Moeen Ali, who retired from Test cricket on Monday (September 27), is proof enough of that.
His statistics are strong enough, of course. 64 Tests, 195 wickets, five hundreds and nearly 3,000 runs. A Test hat-trick. Four hundreds in a calendar year in 2016, one of only three players to do that for England. One of only five Englishmen to have taken more than 150 wickets and scored more than 2,500 runs in Test cricket too. The others? Sir Ian Botham, Andrew Flintoff Stuart Broad and Ben Stokes. Rarefied company indeed. By many measures, Moeen has been a fine Test cricketer.
But there will be others who quote different statistics. One hundred in the last five years. A batting average of 28. A bowling average of 36.66 and an economy rate of 3.61. Those are the statistics that will be trotted out as reasons why Moeen's career was unfulfilled, why he was not the player that he could have been. But Moeen's period in the Test team cannot be measured simply by numbers.
He played the game in the most joyous way, whether flowing cover drives through the off-side or fizzing deliveries through the gate of the world's best batsmen. Sure, there were the maddening shots, like the one at The Oval in his final Test, caught trying to slog Ravindra Jadeja. Sure, there were plenty of log hops and full tosses. But in between times, he played some wonderfully evocative innings and bowled some unplayable deliveries.
Moeen was always compelling viewing, an entertainer to his core. The statistics of his career don't capture the essence of the player he was. He may have been more inconsistent than he would have liked, he probably should have done better at times, but not many can reach the highs he reached or do the things he did.
The hat-trick at the Oval against South Africa in 2017 will certainly live long in the memory for those who were there. When the third wicket was given, Moeen has never looked happier on a cricket field. His teammates, who to a man love and respect him, mobbed him and picked him up as the crowd stood to applaud. Only the coldest of hearts would not have been warmed by those scenes. It was an unforgettable moment at the height of Moeen's powers as a Test cricketer. In that series, he took 25 wickets and scored more than 250 runs.
With the bat, Moeen could make things look so easy and elegant. When he was batting in full flow, everything seemed right in the world. He scored two proactive hundreds in India in the 2016 series and a swashbuckling innings of 75 not out from 66 balls against South Africa at Old Trafford during that 2017 series. There were less of those defining innings as time wore on – his last Test hundred was in December 2016 – but he still had the ability to turn on the style. He smashed 43 off 18 deliveries in Chennai in February, an innings which included five sixes. Few players can play those sort of innings.
There was also a range to Moeen's game that was often underappreciated, though. He was not simply a silky, flashy left-hander who played his shots no matter what. The rear-guard hundred against Sri Lanka at Lord's in 2014 was the best example of Moeen digging in but there were others. In 2018 against India at the Oval he batted at number three and took 170 balls to score 50. He played and missed regularly but batted with the responsibility that England needed after winning the toss. Even during this summer's series against India, he battled hard at Lord's and the Oval, notwithstanding that poor shot in the fourth Test.
It is fair, however, to argue that Moeen underperformed with the bat although being shunted up and down the order – he batted in every position from 1 to 9 – hardly helped his cause. Considering the talent he had, too often Moeen played poor shots at the wrong moment. Perhaps that was a product of batting for the majority of his career in the lower middle order, planted there to accommodate others higher up. Then, when England needed someone to plug a gap in the top order, it was often Moeen who was called upon to do the job. He did it without complaint each and every time.
His bowling? He overachieved there without doubt. He started off in Test cricket as a batsman who bowled but turned himself into a Test class off-spinner who could defeat the best players through the air and off the pitch. That is no easy thing to do. He may not have been a containing bowler as Graeme Swann was but Moeen ended up with more Test wickets than any other English spinner apart from Swann and Jim Laker. Rarefied company. Again.
Had he been managed smarter, who knows what Moeen's career would have looked like. There was the constant shifting of batting position and then, after one poor game at the start of the 2019 Ashes, having been the leading wicket taker in the world during the previous 12 months, he was dropped then not given a Test contract. That prompted him to take a break from Test cricket and focus on the short formats, only returning at the start of this year. Had England offered him a Test contract at the end of that 2019 summer, as they should have done, Moeen may have another 20 caps to his name.
Off the field, Moeen was a role model for thousands of British Asians at a time when numbers of British Asian cricketers in the professional game has dwindled to horrendously low levels. Moeen showed young British Asian boys and girls the way, showed them that Test cricket was a place for them, that they too can make it just as he did. He embraced that role model status and although it's impossible to put a number on the young British Asian children he inspired, he has likely had a significant effect.
He also showed that cricket can be played without snarling and shouting, that the key tenets of his strong Muslim faith, those of respect and compassion, are compatible with the life of an international sportsman. Not that his mild-mannered nature should be taken for a lack of desire or determination. Even after an incredibly tough Ashes tour in 2017/18, he came back for more and bowled some of the best Test overs of his career in the year that followed. His status as a role model, the example he set to others, the resilience he showed, you can't put a number on any of that.
There may be a sense at the end of Moeen's Test career that he might have done more, scored more hundreds, taken more wickets. But really, he was a player who was worth far more than bare statistics. He played with a freedom of expression and spirit that not many players can summon. That brought frustration and disappointment at times but enough entertainment and joy to balance it out. He was also a role model for British Asians and wore that responsibility with pride and he played the game in a manner that everyone should strive for.
The numbers tell one story of Moeen Ali's career. They don't, however, tell the full story.