Moeen Ali has been enjoying himself out in India as England keep their World Twenty20 hopes alive but what makes “the beard that is feared” a vital asset to the national team?
He was always destined for success from a young age. Signed by Warwickshire at 15, he set the standard by hitting a cracking century on his first-class debut against Cambridge MCCU and against Nottinghamshire but was dropped for the following game on both occasions.
After a bright start to his career, Moeen captained the England U19 team to the semi-finals of the 2006 World Cup. He kept his growing reputation intact by smashing a 56-ball century in a game against Sri Lanka that ensured he came back on a high.
Following his lack of opportunities at Warwickshire, he left for local rivals Worcestershire at the end of 2006 and was a vital part of the team that won the Pro-40 title in 2007. His breathtaking century against Northants came off 46 balls and was the second fastest List A century in a match involving two first-class county sides.
Boosted by such confidence he tried to combat a tendency to knick off and went through a period of batting like Shivnarine Chanderpaul. Unfortunately, it was never meant to be as left balls that went on to hit his off stump instead.
In 2010 he made 1,270 runs at an average of 47.01 and in 2013, 1,375 runs at 62.50 that won him the Professional Cricketer’s Association’s most valuable player award as he improved his batting with increased discipline outside off stump. While his batting spoke for itself, his handy off-spin was gaining momentum as he picked up 33 wickets at 20.00 in 2012 and 28 at 33.71 the following year.
These performances earned him a maiden England call-up for the ODI series in the West Indies at the start of 2014 and the World T20 in Bangladesh the following month.
A Test call-up was always on the cards for him after putting in consistent performances on the county circuit. Predominantly a batsman who can bowl, Moeen was drafted into the squad after the shocking retirement of Graeme Swann.
However, it was his batting that stood out during his early Test career. He hit an unbeaten hundred in his second Test against Sri Lanka as England went within two balls of saving the series.
It was a completely different story for Moeen in his next series as England hosted India. He benefited from a conversation with former Sri Lankan off-spinner Kumar Dharmasena, who provided technical advice as to how to achieve extra pace without losing any flight. This brief encounter proved to be vital as Moeen had an unforgettable series, finishing with 19 wickets and enhanced his growing reputation.
Although his batting form failed to match his bowling performances in Test cricket, he took his chance when promoted to the top of the order in the ODI side. The gamble paid off as he hit the third fastest century by an English player in Colombo ending the year as a regular in all formats.
Away from the playing field, Moeen has been a role-model for fellow British Asians – a part of society that county cricket has not always encouraged as it might have done.
Moeen is England’s highest wicket taker at the ongoing World Cup as well as the most economical. Having been taken to the cleaners by Chris Gayle in the opening game, he held his nerve to hit the winning runs against South Africa as England live to fight another day.
They now face Afghanistan on Wednesday and must guard against complacency against cricket’s brightest associate nation.