Moeen Ali admits he ‘panics’ in ODIs in verdict on state of World Cup defence
ngland have not looked like world champions so far on this tour of South Africa, nor, really, have they for some time, so it was intriguing to hear Moeen Ali give his thoughts, following successive ODI defeats in Bloemfontein, as to where this team might yet be able to go.
“I genuinely believe we will be better than we were,” the vice-captain said, looking back on the 2019 vintage and ahead to October and the defence of their 50-over crown in India. “[We’ve got] more experience, more used to different conditions, and going to India where we’ve played a lot of IPL in those conditions and wickets, I feel we will be ready to go.
“Results don’t show it yet but I think we will be better than we were.”
There have been enough mitigating circumstances to make England’s recent run of poor form – which now reads just two wins in ten completed ODIs – forgivable, for now.
It began during a summer of transition following Eoin Morgan’s retirement and the appointment of Matthew Mott as white-ball head coach, has roots in the de-prioritising of the format during back-to-back T20 World Cup cycles and is now being amplified by scheduling conflicts that have seen most recent series played with nothing like a full strength side.
“It’s not easy not having the best players here all the time,” Moeen said. “I hate going on about the schedule, but [Joe] Root’s not here and he’s our best ODI player in terms of stats and stuff like that.
“Rooty is a massive player at No3, Jonny [Bairstow] is out, [Mark] Wood would be in as well. A lot of strength and players to come in, to get that experience.
“Come the crunch time, what really matters is pressure and how you handle the pressure. We have been in that situation many times and we can hopefully do it again.
“There is no panic in the changing room. We know with the World Cup coming up it is about getting the right team together.”
Moeen’s own role will be intriguing to monitor over the next nine months. With Ben Stokes, for now at least, retired, he has been batting up the order at No6 in an attempt to balance the side and must start to deliver consistent runs, particularly with the likes of Liam Livingstone and Will Jacks in contention and capable of playing a similar role as a spinning all-rounder.
Moeen’s half-century in Sunday’s defeat was his first in the format since 2017 and he admits that existing on a diet of almost exclusively T20 cricket outside the international set-up has made adjusting to the 50-over game more challenging.
“I’ve played so much T20 cricket lately that it’s hard to go in and not play shots from ball one,” he said. “I nearly got out trying to play a big shot, but it is difficult. I mean 50 overs is a completely different mindset but you want to keep that intensity.
“I want to keep myself going otherwise I get a little bit lazy and I have this fight between being lazy and being too aggressive.”
Coming in later in a 50-over innings also requires a different approach from a player used to batting, more often than not, in the top-order in franchise cricket.
“One of the hardest things is when you’re so used to the powerplay and then coming in having to whack guys bowling at 90mph,” he said.
“It is not easy. I’m not a powerful guy. But I need to give myself that time and that’s something I need to really trust.
“Sometimes I do panic. I don’t trust my own game at times because I see the boundaries and then I feel like they’re really big at times, but then I’ll hit one and I’m okay.”
The 35-year-old does at least profess to still enjoy batting in the longer form of the white-ball game, which is more than can be said for his other suit.
“I hate bowling in 50-over cricket,” he admitted. “I actually think it’s quite unfair for spinners. I genuinely think that because we always have to have one guy up [in the field].
“I just feel like it’s hard to build pressure unless it’s absolutely ragging. [Adil] Rashid bowled four dot-balls to [South African batter] Rassie [van der Dussen] and he just went to sweep for four – normally that should be a one, in my opinion.
“Obviously, we have to get better, but a lot go the time you can only bowl straight. As soon as you give a bit of width, it’s four on good wickets.”