Moeen Ali wants to win the Ashes to “finish Test cricket properly.”

Moeen Ali wants to win the Ashes to "finish Test cricket properly."

Allrounder returns to Old Trafford for an astonishing encore two years after what should have been his final Test performance.

Moeen Ali wants to win the Ashes to "finish Test cricket properly."
Moeen Ali celebrates his 200th Test wicket. He has the chance to reach 3000 runs at Old Trafford 

Moeen Ali celebrates his 200th Test wicket.

Moeen Ali celebrates his 200th Test wicket. He has the chance to reach 3000 runs at Old Trafford  Seven weeks ago, Moeen Ali celebrated his second IPL triumph with Chennai Super Kings after a frenetic final in Ahmedabad. Test cricket was the furthest thing from his thoughts. He was in his second year of retirement from the format, juggling his duties as England’s white-ball vice-captain with lucrative T20 chances. With the Ashes series in Manchester, he is not just England’s top spinner but also their No. 3 hitter. It is a one-of-a-kind all-around role for England in modern Ashes cricket; the only reference can be found in the days of ‘Young Jack’ Hearne, Frank Woolley, and Wilfred Rhodes.

This was not supposed to happen. Moeen had intended to spend the few weeks between the T20 Blast and the Hundred relaxing. Still, events – Jack Leach’s back, Ollie Pope’s shoulder, and Moeen’s talk with Brendon McCullum on the third evening at Headingley – have taken over, as they often do.

“Things happen for a reason,” remarked Moeen on Monday. “I truly believe that, and I have always believed it.” That’s why, when the phone call came, I thought, ‘It’s an opportunity I can’t pass up.’ It’s a fun task, but everything happens for a reason. “I’m a big believer in fate and faith and all that.”

Emirates Moeen Ali’s final Test was supposed to occur at Old Trafford two years ago. Still, India’s withdrawal from the game hours before the first ball was bowled ensured his farewell appearance never occurred. Two years later, he should be able to say his final goodbyes at The Oval: “It would be amazing to win an Ashes and finish Test cricket properly.”

Like the rest of his Test career, Moeen Ali’s promotion to No. 3 at Headingley was designed to help others rather than himself. He knew Harry Brook was better at ease at No. 5, and he believed Jonny Bairstow would have more clout if he moved down a spot or two, so he approached McCullum and proposed his plan.“If I can just play 10 overs and get through that hardness of the ball, it’s probably easier for the other guys to come in – especially in a chase like that,” he stated. I believed it was better, and they all agreed.”

Moeen hit only 5 from 15 balls before losing his leg stump to Mitchell Starc, but his elevation was a qualified success in that it allowed Brook to bat in the 20th over rather than the 10th, and his 75 was the critical innings in England’s three-wicket win. “I know you want your best players up the order,” he remarked, “but with Popey out of the side, it’s obviously short-term.”

Amid his self-deprecation, it’s easy to forget that Moeen is a seasoned No. 3. He batted there 75 times for Worcestershire in first-class cricket, averaging 53.61 with seven hundreds and two doubles, and has long stated that the higher up the order he bats, the more he feels like a genuine batter: “You end up preparing differently.”

“[I’ve been] going back to simple things about batting: playing the ball late; playing as straight as I can; and just leaving a few balls,” he said. “I’m just getting my mind right for No. 3.” He netted in the indoor school at Edgbaston between Tests and has been “just hitting balls, training quite a bit, trying to get myself ready for a tough challenge” since landing in Manchester.

Moeen is 18 runs away from reaching 3,000 Test runs with his 200 wickets, making him only the 16th man to accomplish it. “I think it means much more to my dad,” he explained. “It would mean a lot to me as well, but my dad is the one who is excited about it, so hopefully I can make it.” I know it’s only about 20 runs, but it feels miles away.”

He has thrived with the ball at Old Trafford, taking 16 wickets in his previous three Tests here, and demonstrated at Headingley – where he dismissed both Marnus Labuschagne and Steven Smith – that his spinning finger has healed sufficiently for him to play his role after the seam of the ball ripped his skin at Edgbaston.

After the first Test, Moeen was given an anti-bacterial gel called ‘Medihoney’ by an NHS nurse who sent him a note saying how much she liked it; it helped to cure the wound almost immediately. “I thought, ‘Wow, this is amazing,'” he told the BBC. “Those little things are what makes me content and happy.”

This week, Moeen will be part of one of England’s oldest and most experienced bowling assaults in Test history. They have 1,974 Test wickets between them, beating the record established by the attack that played in the series opener. “I was always told that old is gold,” he smiled.

Everything about Moeen’s comeback has been bizarre yet eerily similar to the rest of his unpredictable Test career. Moeen’s legacy was his altruism and adaptability when he retired. It could be even better if he can help England tie the series this week.


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