By David Clough (Sport360)
Moeen Ali has learned much in his short Test career so far – about the likely impact of wristband slogans, and a distinctly handy tip on how to bowl quicker off-breaks.
Moeen has hit on a priceless trick of the trade, thanks to a combination of team-mate Ian Bell and umpire Kumar Dharmasena, which instantly made him a more challenging bowler in international cricket.
As he reflected before the fifth Test, which starts tomorrow (Friday) at The Oval, on that leap forward as a fully-fledged England all-rounder, he also spoke publicly for the first time about the ‘Save Gaza’ and ‘Free Palestine’ wristbands he wore in last month’s victory over India at the Ageas Bowl.
Moeen was instructed by the International Cricket Council (ICC) to remove the slogans, about the Middle East humanitarian crisis, and happily did so.
He still finds it hard to believe his personal expression caused such a fuss, however.
“I didn’t think it would be such a big deal,” said the 27-year-old, whose signature beard is a constant and evident reminder to all of his Muslim faith.
“I just totally forgot I had them on when I went into bat. Obviously it all came out, but it didn’t bother me one bit. I have to be a lot more careful. ICC didn’t allow me to wear them and I accepted that.”
As a British Muslim, Moeen hopes his England career can help ensure others realise there is nothing to stop them following in his footsteps – as long as they have the ability and are prepared to work hard.
“That’s the kind of barrier I want to try and break down – that people think it is tough and will treat you badly if you’re a practicing Muslim,” he said.
“That is the reason I like to play cricket for England – because I can break down barriers for other people and inspire kids, not just Asian kids but all kids, to play.
“Previously a lot of them wanted to play for India and Pakistan, but now I get a lot more Asians coming up to me saying they’re supporting England.
“That’s what I want and that for me makes me happier than anything – a lot of people are supporting England and want us to do well.”
Moeen already has a Test hundred under his belt, yet recognises – with 19 wickets in the ongoing series against India – it is the progress he has made as a bowler which currently cements his place.
He began the summer billed as a batsman who could contribute part-time off-spin, but has twice in succession helped to bowl England to victory.
“At the moment, I think it’s my bowling that’s keeping me in the team,” he said.
“It is nice when I come on to bowl and the crowd are cheering. At first, I wasn’t sure if it was because they were going to see more runs.
“After the first Test at Trent Bridge, where I went for quite a few runs, I sat down and analysed it and felt the need for change.”
It was first Bell and then Dharmasena – in a practice day conversation before the second Test at Lord’s – who helped Moeen to make the right tweaks.
“Belly took me to one side and said ‘Look, this is what you’ve got to do to be consistent in the Test side – this is what Swanny [Graeme Swann] did, bowl quicker and straighter, especially on a first-day pitch,” said Moeen.
“Then I went into the nets and the umpire Kumar Dharmasena was there, and I asked him ‘as a former off-spinner, how can I bowl quicker without it being flat?’”
The response was a revelation and ever since Moeen has been studiously rushing his guide-arm through to increasing effect.
“He said to me ‘just grab your pocket as quickly as you can with your non-bowling arm’,” said Moeen.
“As soon as I bowled one ball I knew it would work. That, for some reason, allows me to bowl a lot quicker and straighter without being flat.”