England vs New Zealand first Test: Moeen Ali playing catch-up from wrong position

Ali has paid the price for two poor Tests in the West Indies despite starring last summer

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The Independent Online

Moeen Ali could be forgiven for wondering whether last summer ever really happened.

Defying the scepticism that accompanied his selection, Moeen scored a century in his second Test and ended the series against India – the masters of playing slow bowling – with 19 wickets at 23.

Although his batting did not quite develop as quickly as the hundred against Sri Lanka suggested it would, there were still plenty of reasons for Moeen to be optimistic. .

He made such an impact, indeed, that his image was on the front cover of this year’s Wisden. With an Ashes series on the horizon, this should have been the summer that Moeen became one of England’s key men. Yet with only one more Test against New Zealand to play before England take on Australia at Cardiff, Moeen’s place in the team is no longer secure.

He came into the side to bat at six and held the spot during his first nine Tests. Arriving here at Lord’s, the Worcestershire all-rounder found himself shunted down two places in the order.

Paul Farbrace, England’s interim coach, placed his faith in Ben Stokes. Jos Buttler, the wicketkeeper-batsman with a precious talent, did not deserve to be demoted from seven, so Moeen was the odd man out.

There is similar concern about his bowling prospects, although he performed tidily on Friday. Alastair Cook waited 32 overs before giving the ball to Moeen. Martin Guptill swatted the off-spinner’s seventh ball into the Tavern Stand for six but later in that over, Moeen struck.

Tom Latham played back to a delivery to which he should have moved forward, and was lbw. If you believe truly in a player’s batting, you do not wait until the sixth wicket falls to send him in. If you truly believe in his bowling, you would probably not wait for 32 wicketless overs of seam before throwing him the ball.

“It was better today. I was pretty happy with the way it was coming out,” he said later. “I felt like there was a bit more rhythm. I just try to enjoy it as much as I can, and don’t really think too much.

“I was fully fit in Grenada and Barbados, but just didn’t bowl very well. I had to put a lot of work in the last couple of weeks.”

Moeen has abundant talent. Despite some difficulties against the short ball, he strikes it cleanly and seems to have a steady temperament. In international cricket, you must be able to learn quickly and Moeen scores highly here, too.

And yet it seems – unfairly – that Moeen’s stock has fallen after two poor Tests against West Indies. As England lost quick wickets here on the first morning, Moeen had to abort a net session and scurry back to the dressing room. With the Ashes around the corner, it feels like Moeen is playing catch-up.