Southampton: Moeen Ali hopes the way he has so far performed with both bat and ball during the fourth Test against India at Southampton will mark a “fresh start” to his England career.
Ali endured a tough 2017/18 tour of Australia and New Zealand that included England’s 4-0 Ashes loss and then spent five months out of the Test side.
But he was recalled after England’s thumping 203-run defeat by India at Trent Bridge last week cut their lead in this five-match series to 2-1.
Left-handed batsman Ali responded with a useful 40 batting at number seven in England’s first-innings 246 on Thursday before taking five for 63 with his right-arm off-spin on Friday.
Had it not been for India number three batsman Cheteshwar Pujara’s excellent 132 not out, England might have enjoyed a first-innings lead.
As it was India made 273 and England were six without loss in their second innings — a deficit of 21 runs — at stumps on Friday’s second day.
In the corresponding Test between the same teams at Southampton four years ago, Ali took six for 67 as England won by 266 runs.
The Worcestershire all-rounder has often struggled with the pressure of being England’s first-choice spinner.
But this Test sees Ali in the same England team as Yorkshire leg-spinner Adil Rashid.
“The role in the side now is my best role – mainly as a batter, then coming on as a second spinner gives me a lot more confidence and freedom, and I actually end up playing better,” Ali told reporters.
“I’m trying to have a fresh start,” added the 31-year-old, now in his 51st Test.
– ‘Cleared my mind’ –
And he insisted he had never lost faith in his own ability despite his struggles in the southern hemisphere.
“It’s believing you’re not a bad player after one bad winter. Many players have gone through that, and for me it was just moving on, making you a better player, a stronger character.”
The worth of Ali’s approach was underlined by a timely double century and six wickets for Worcestershire against Yorkshire last week.
“I’ve loved being back at Worcester,” he said.
“It’s always nice to get a call-up (for England) when you’re in decent nick…you have that confidence coming into the game,” Ali added.
And his 2014 success at Southampton, also helped bolster Ali’s self-belief.
“The last time I was here just gave me a bit of confidence for today (Friday),” he said.
Pujara averaged a lowly 14 batting for Yorkshire earlier this season but his familiar grit and technical ability were both on show during a near six-hour innings on Friday.
“He showed a lot of composure and clarity of thought,” said admiring India batting coach Sanjay Bangar of Pujara.
“You saw a great mix of caution and aggression in that innings, and another facet of his batsmanship when he showed another glimpse of what he could do when he was batting with the tail,” he added.