George Dobell, in ESPNcricinfo, 20 October 2016, where the title is “Moeen Ali survives five lbw reviews in extraordinary day”
Whether that makes Moeen lucky or unlucky is debatable. It was noticeable that conversation between him and Dharmasena – the man whose advice revolutionised his bowling – evaporated in the afternoon session and Moeen could have been forgiven a smile when he saw Dharmasena call for a fresh pair of glasses (presumably sunglasses) midway through the afternoon session. “We are normally pretty tight,” Moeen said afterwards. “But we didn’t speak for a session. It was a tough pitch to umpire, but what can I say? The guy gave me out three times!”
Either way, Moeen responded with a vital innings. Coming to the crease with England reeling at 21 for 3 – their lowest score at the loss of their third wicket in the first innings of a Test in Asia – he recorded his highest score in the top six in Test cricket (he has batted in the top six 18 times and at No. 7, 8 and 9 32 times combined) to give England a foothold in this match.
They may even have their noses in front. At one stage, they were talking of 250 as a good score. While the pitch will not necessarily deteriorate markedly, it is most unlikely to become easier to bat upon. The prospect of batting last is daunting for Bangladesh.
It was, at times, a desperate struggle for England. On an unusually dry pitch – some in the England dressing room rate it the driest surface they have ever seen for the start of a Test – the ball spun sharply from the start and, in stifling heat and humidity, retaining concentration was tough and ball beat bat often.
Ben Duckett looked talented but loose, Alastair Cook looked rusty and Gary Ballance was somewhat unfortunate to be adjudged leg before to a ball that just brushed the bat before meeting the middle of the bat. It is a dismissal that would have been unthinkable before the days of DRS.
But Moeen, adopting the logic that served him well in the English summer, imagined he was batting at No. 3 for Worcestershire and approached the innings not as a bowling all-rounder but a specialist batsman whose side required him to fight through the tricky periods and provide what may turn out to be a match-defining platform. He did not allow the reviews to disturb his concentration, he did not lose patience when runs dried up and he did not miss out when the rare poor ball was delivered.
We knew Moeen could score pretty runs. We knew he could come in down the order, time the ball sweetly and provide important contributions. But here he was asked to do more than that. He was promoted to No. 5 – one of five left-handers in the top six – and required to battle like a top-order player; not waft like a bonus batsman.
The result may have been, as Moeen described them, “dirty runs” but from England’s perspective they were wonderfully dirty. It was not his most memorable or pleasing innings for England, but it was one of his most mature. It took a beautiful delivery, which drifted in to draw the stroke and spun to take the edge, to end it.
“It was very tough,” he said. “The hardest 60 I’ve ever made. They bowled well; very accurately. I kept missing the ball and it kept hitting my pad. I couldn’t figure out why. It was a massive mental challenge – especially with the reviews – but it was a good mental challenge.”
That positive mindset is obvious in every aspect of Moeen’s approach to this tour. While some players have declined to tour on security grounds, Moeen has brought his wife (who is from Bangladesh and who, he met here on tour a few years ago) and son and is relishing every aspect of the trip.
He was not alone here. Not only did Joe Root score a polished 40 – easily the most fluent batting of the day – but he insisted Moeen utilise DRS on the second and third occasions he was adjudged to have been out leg before. While Moeen was confident he had some bat on the first such appeal – a view that was eventually vindicated by replays – he admitted he may not have called for a review on either of the other two occasions. “Root saved me,” he said.
Later Jonny Bairstow and Chris Woakes also provided valuable runs. Bairstow, who might consider himself unfortunate to be moved down the order, contributed his fourth half-century in successive Test innings and his fifth in six. He fell one short of equalling Andy Flower’s record for the most runs in a calendar year by a Test keeper but, with a maximum of 13 more innings to come this year, he will surely break that record by a huge margin. He has, at present, played only one innings more than Flower.
It was another example of England’s strength in depth rescuing them. Here, for the first time since 1992, they have fielded a Test XI in which every man has scored a first-class century.
It will be interesting to see how England respond tactically to what they witnessed on day one. Moeen reasoned that the spin was most dangerous with the new ball as some deliveries skidded on off the shiny surface and some gripped and turned. The ball continued to spin with the older ball, but just a little more predictably.
So, will England take the same approach? Or will they conclude that would negate their strength in three seamers? Bangladesh bowled only 17 overs of seam on day one, conceding 4.35 runs per over from them and failing to take a wicket. The 75 overs of spin – yes, we had 92 overs in the day – brought seven wickets at a cost of just 2.21 runs per over despite the utilisation of two or three part-time bowlers.
Bangladesh were not without fault, though. For a start, they dropped Bairstow at slip on 13 but, just as damaging was the introduction of Kamrul Islam Rabbi who conceded 5.12 runs per over and released the pressure almost every time he came into the attack. After one early over, he was reintroduced into the attack when England were 35 for 3 and Moeen was on 1. He conceded 10 in his first over back and 22 from the four-over spell.
So England – and Moeen in particular – had some fortune. But they retained their composure and took advantage. It was a far from perfect day, but it could have been much, much worse. Frane Selak would understand.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo ………………© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
* Lisa Be: “The Story Of Frane Selak, The Luckiest Unlucky Man To Ever Live, http://www.lifebuzz.com/luckiest-man/