Moeen Ali will be a vital player for England over the next two months but he has been unusually peripheral in the tour’s opening fortnight, laid low with the slightest of side strains. However, the all-rounder says he is now fit and ready to feature in England’s final warm-up game against a Cricket Australia XI on Wednesday, only eight days before the Test series starts at the Gabba, where his importance is magnified by the absence of Ben Stokes.
Jonny Bairstow, who has started the tour in fine form, and Moeen will move up a place in the batting order in the suspended Stokes’s absence in Townsville, and Moeen – who has long coveted a role in the top five – is not complaining. “Obviously I want him out here but also for myself it’s an opportunity to go up the order,” he said. “My whole thing is to try and get up the order as much as I can.”
England believe Moeen could have played the tour’s opening first-class match in Adelaide but rested him as a precaution, with the first Test in mind. He is now able to throw – the injury hindered this – and has netted comfortably for a week.
Moeen – speaking shortly after he and Alastair Cook had fed an 800kg, 4.5m crocodile called Bully a pair of chickens called Moeen and Alastair – knows Australia will target him just as ravenously and relentlessly.
When he bowls he expects to be attacked, immediately and brutally. Australia is a tough place to bowl finger-spin (although Nathan Lyon has fought fiercely to thrive), but Moeen believes he is a better bowler now than he was in his first Ashes series in 2015. He is inured to his bowling being under siege, and believes it improves his chances of taking wickets.
“They will definitely come after me,” he said. “It’s not anything new really. I’m looking forward to it and I think they’re going to come after a few of the guys. It’s that sort of Test series being the Ashes and I’ve had that many times before so I’m not too worried. If anything, you get more opportunity to do something better. If they come after you with the bat you always have a chance of getting wickets. We’ll see.”
He will be subject to hostility when he bats too, given a history of discomfort against the short ball. Accordingly, as England played in Adelaide, Moeen tried to go “over the top” with his net practices, making conditions as extreme as possible by improvising to help counter his perceived weakness. In the nets, Moeen places a reinforced, dense tray short of a length, soaks it with water, then gets the fielding coach, Paul Collingwood, to skim hardened balls off it from around 18 yards. It zips through, heightening pace and improving reactions. It has seen Moeen absorb some blows, too.