LEEDS: It says a lot about England’s approach to one-day cricket since the last World Cup that Moeen Ali considers the highlight ahead of his 100th game as just being a part of the team.
Moeen made his ODI debut for England against West Indies in 2014, posted a century and three half-centuries in his first eight innings, and was a member of the squad that was eliminated in the group stage of the 2015 World Cup.
It is what the England team’s response was to that disappointment that has most excited him in the last four years.
Under Eoin Morgan’s captaincy, England have undergone a revolution in the way they attack the game and are now the pace-setters in the ODI format, starting this World Cup as the title favourites on their home soil.
“Just being part of the team being part of the change, I guess, since when I first came in and to see the team where we are now,” Moeen told reporters at Headingley on Thursday when asked for the highlight of his first 99 ODIs. “Looking back if I was to retire, I’d always think I was part of that change, the mind-set changing and the great cricket we’ve played.”
With Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow blazing away at the top of the order, Joe Root as a steadying influence, the likes of Morgan, Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes in the middle order and Adil Rashid as the preferred spin bowler, there’s not always room for Moeen in the starting XI.
That doesn’t bother Moeen, who missed the win over Bangladesh days before his wife gave birth to their second child and then was a strategic omission in the victory over the West Indies. He played a cameo nine-ball 31 in the win over Afghanistan in Manchester that contained four sixes and helped England improve their own world record for most sixes in an ODI innings to 25.
He’s set to go again on Friday against Sri Lanka at Headingley, with England unlikely to change the combination particularly with Roy sidelined with injury.
Moeen averages 26, has three centuries and 83 wickets in ODIs, but he can have a big impact on a game batting at No. 7 and contributing tight overs with the ball.
England have beaten South Africa, Bangladesh, West Indies and Afghanistan and can retake the lead in the standings with a victory over a Sri Lanka side that has had a disjointed tournament, containing just one win, two washed-out games, and losses to Australia and New Zealand.
The top four teams unbeaten New Zealand and India, plus England and Australia have been the most consistent so far in the long league format where each of the 10 teams plays every other team, but Moeen said teams such as Bangladesh and Sri Lanka were capable of producing upsets that could ensure the final quartet is different.
England had an upset loss to Pakistan immediately after their tournament-opening win over South Africa.
“Sri Lanka pose a big threat tomorrow [Friday],” Moeen said. “At the moment, the top four are there for a reason because they are playing probably the best cricket out of all the teams and most consistent, but there’s still a lot of games to go.
“Every game is huge for us and every point that we get is going to be massive there could be some weather around later in the tournament so we want to make the most of the occasion.”
Sri Lanka captain Dimuth Karunaratne, who scored 97 against Australia, said he needed his middle-order batsmen to apply themselves to building big partnerships and his bowlers to keep mixing it up. If they can reproduce the kind of performance that helped Sri Lanka beat India in the Champions Trophy here two years ago, they can reach the semi-finals again.
“Definitely,” Karunaratne said. “We have the ability to do it. If everyone can lift their mental strength, we can be semi-finalists.”
Published in Dawn, June 21st, 2019