Support role for Moeen Ali gives England’s selfless star his deserved World Cup moment
Moeen Ali was forced to watch on from the sidelines in 2019 as England survived the late drama to win the Cricket World Cup.
The spin-bowling all-rounder had been a staple of the England 50-over side throughout the previous four-year cycle, scoring handy runs down the order at number seven and operating as an effective second spinner.
But a dry spell with the bat and tournament conditions that saw almost every team move away from bowling spin wherever possible, left Moeen as a spare part.
England shuffled their pack to accommodate all of their four frontline quick bowlers (Jofra Archer, Mark Wood, Chris Woakes and Liam Plunkett) and Moeen was the selection victim.
In 2021 the all-rounder stood up with the bat, scoring an important half-century to get his team to a competitive score in the semi-finals.
But New Zealand’s successful chase left Moeen with regrets. Could he have kicked on more in his 51* from 37 balls? Perhaps.
Yet now there will be no regrets from 2022, despite a tournament where the England vice-captain had limited opportunities to show his undoubted class.
“It felt like the biggest game I’ve ever played in because obviously I was so desperate to win it,” Moeen said after England’s triumph at the MCG.
“I feel like as a team we deserved it. I’m absolutely buzzing.
“To win the World Cup after 2016, missing out in the final, then the semi-final (last year) where we probably felt we should have won, and then coming out here... it was an amazing performance.”
His 19 off 13 in the final against Pakistan in Melbourne won’t make any headlines. But it was an important and characteristically selfless contribution from a player who so often slips into the support role for England.
Every winning team needs a Ben Stokes; the big-moment hero who grabs the bull by the horns.
But they also need a Moeen Ali; the hugely popular team man who keeps morale high and sacrifices his own numbers for the good of the side.
With the run rate climbing as the overs ticked away against Pakistan, somebody needed to up the scoring rate and take the pressure off Stokes.
And Moeen did the job.
Such a role isn’t without risk. Going for the big shots at such a point will invite plenty of criticism, often from the older-school pundits who haven’t grasped what makes T20 tick.
But it was absolutely necessary for Moeen to play in such a manner to reduce the pressure on both his team and Stokes at the other end.
Had Moeen not scored at a rate of 146.15 (considerably quicker than any of his teammates on the day except for opener Jos Buttler), then England and Stokes would have gone into the final over of the final with the game very much still alive.
And in that scenario, on that sort of stage and with the pressure at its highest, there’s always a chance of things going dramatically wrong.
But quietly and selflessly, Moeen produced the cameo that his team required.
He won’t get much of the praise, and when future cricket historians look back at the 2022 T20 World Cup final it will not be his innings that stands out.
But England needed Moeen, much like they have throughout his career. And he sacrificed his own numbers and record for the cause.
It’s what makes him one of his nation’s best.
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