England’s Moeen Ali (left) and Adil Rashid rest during the net session at the ICC Academy in Dubai yesterday. (Reuters)
By Ali Martin in Dubai/The Guardian
Moeen Ali, in his new role at the top of the England order, feels like a batsman once more and has revealed an ability to understand Urdu has helped share Pakistan’s bowling plans with his opening partner, Alastair Cook.
Normally first-drop for Worcestershire, the left-hander spent last summer stationed at No. 8 in Test cricket as his willingness to embrace this team-balancing demotion reaped 293 runs in the series and proved critical to the Ashes being regained. Here in the United Arab Emirates, despite never opening in first-class cricket before, Moeen has become Cook’s seventh opening partner since Andrew Strauss retired in 2012, allowing Adil Rashid to come in as a second spinner as part of a six-man bowling attack.
In the drawn first Test in Abu Dhabi last week, Moeen and Cook survived 21 overs late on the second day after Pakistan’s declaration on 523 for eight, before going on to share a stand of 116 and become just the third pair of English Test openers in the past 30 years to put on a hundred in their first alliance at the crease.
Moeen was certainly more watchful than during those lower-order cameos against Australia and, despite bowling 30 overs of off-spin, he proved unfussed by the 10-minute turnaround between innings as he patiently set about accumulating 35 from 131 balls – with just two fours struck – over three hours in the middle.“I really enjoyed it and I felt like I could play properly and a bit more like a batter again, rather than coming in down the order and playing a few shots,” said Moeen. “With scoreboard pressure, you want to do a job. It was about making sure we gave the guys confidence that the pitch was fine.”
Moeen has struck up a close bond with fellow spinner Rashid, whose future in the side beyond the current series still feels wedded to his friend’s success as an opening batsman despite five wickets on debut. The pair, both practising Muslims, pray together after each day’s play and visited the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi the night before the first Test.
While proud of his Pakistani heritage, the 28-year-old insists this first taste of international cricket against the country of his grandparents’ birth does not come with any added emotion. It does, however, allow him to earwig an opposition who are yet to lose a Test series in the five years the UAE has operated as their adopted home.
“I do understand what they are saying, obviously, and if they have a plan I tell Cookie what they are trying to do to him. That’s all. It’s about coming here and trying to beat a side that has never lost here. It doesn’t matter if they are Pakistanis or Indians, I’m just trying to do a job. But I do understand what they are saying.”
England are expected to name an unchanged team for tomorrow’s second Test despite Ben Stokes missing yesterday’s training session due to a stomach complaint. Pakistan have requested more pace and spin from the pitch at the Dubai International Stadium, with the leg-spinner Yasir Shah ready to return following a back injury.
Having also added Bilal Asif to their squad – the off-spinner is currently awaiting test results on a suspected illegal bowling action – Pakistan could even play three slow men in a bid to exploit these conditions. Moeen is aware of, but unconcerned by, this threat.
“[Yasir] is their main spinner – their gun spinner – who they go to for wickets and to win them the game. I know he has 61 wickets in 10 games. He’s a good bowler but we will need to play him like we have anybody and just get on with it,” Moeen said.
“Batting is going to be tougher than it was in Abu Dhabi but we have good players of spin in the team. I think Joe Root is the best player of spin in the world, so we are not too fazed. If we prepare well, we go into the game full of confidence.”
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