Moeen Ali became England’s invisible man after playing only two days of cricket in three months.
But white-ball skipper Eoin Morgan insists he remains an “extremely valuable” asset whose absence from the Twenty20 series in India was only “circumstantial.”
As the World Cup holders began the final leg of their winter odyssey in Pune on Tuesday, Moeen had spent more hours in the air than on the pitch in 2021.
Leaving an all-rounder wanted by almost every T20 side – except the one ranked No.1 in the world – in charge of the drinks crate was an unexplained anomaly of England’s 3-2 defeat over the short course.
And the absence of World Cup winners Joe Root, Chris Woakes and Jofra Archer from the three-match one-day series in Pune should give 33-year-old Moeen a chance to sign off for an £800,000 assignment at the IPL with a gallop.
The Sri Lankan leg of England’s expedition to the subcontinent was a write-off after he contracted Covid-19 and was required to quarantine for 13 days.
Overlooked for the stunning 227-run first Test win against India in Chennai set up by Root’s double hundred, he took eight wickets and top-scored with a violent 43 off 18 balls in the farcical two-day sequel.
Complying with England’s roster for rest and rotation, he flew home for the second half of the series in Ahmedabad – but only after a botched, last-ditch request from the management for him to stay on because young off-spinner Dominic Bess was struggling for form.
Moeen was expected to play a significant part in the five-match Twenty20 series, where taking pace off the ball is often a useful antidote to blacksmiths teeing off.
His absence left former captain Michael Vaughan to scoff on Twitter : “Moeen Ali must be the greatest energy drinks mixer of all time… Missed two Tests to not play a game in the T20 series!!”
But Morgan revealed England’s spare man had taken the rough and the smooth – mainly rough – in his stride, saying: “The little period Mo spent at home before the series has done him the world of good.
“He’s come back refreshed, with plenty of energy. He is a very relaxed guy – always with a more reasonable perspective on life, sport and the role it plays in society – so he is travelling really well.
“Is he still a valuable white-ball player for England? Anybody who is an all-rounder within the side and makes our squad is extremely valuable.
“I know he has not played, but that is circumstantial. The pitches we have played on have not turned, and that limits the amount a finger spinner’s contribution in the game might make.
“But every game we went to, Moeen was considered for selection. It was not a matter of sticking with a consistent playing XI.
“Our intention was to pick our best side to try and win every game, and was based on having our best 15 or 16 players available for us. It was not about consistency.”
Morgan admitted Root’s absence in England’s one-day international series against India this week leaves a “massive hole” in their top order.
The Test captain, who averages 50.1 and has made 16 centuries after 149 matches in the one-day format, has not returned to Asia for the final leg of three games in six days.
With travel routes posing a logistical challenge and a mandatory quarantine period on arrival in India, Root and Woakes will enjoy an extended rest period.
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Morgan said: “Obviously losing Joe Root leaves a massive hole for a guy who scores at a run a ball and averages 50. He’s an exceptional player and has been for a long time.
“I hope it doesn’t change the dynamics too much. We will miss him but it’s just got to be a matter of somebody slotting in at No.3 and going about it in their own business.”
Indian captain Virat Kohli revealed Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan will resume their successful opening partnership for the trilogy of one-dayers.
Dhawan was overlooked entirely, with Rohit and Kohli – who scored a sparkling 80 off 52 balls – excelling in the decider.