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Why Moeen Ali’s bowling could decide the Ashes

Klaus Nannestad Roar Guru

By Klaus Nannestad, Klaus Nannestad is a Roar Guru

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    One of the key factors in the upcoming Ashes will be how Australia fair against Moeen Ali’s offbreaks.

    While the Aussies struggle against spin overseas, at home, where the pitches offer little turn, they tend to dominate opposition tweakers.

    The 2013-14 Ashes was the perfect example. Australia targeted Graeme Swann, seeing one of England’s greatest spinners retire mid-tour, ending the series with a bowling average of 80.

    Similarly, last summer there was a significant contrast in the home side’s results when they targeted the spinner and when they failed to do so.

    Australia lost the first two games of the summer to South Africa, when Keshav Maharaj was the tourists’s spinner. Although Maharaj wasn’t required to bowl much in Hobart, where Australia were skittled by pace, Maharaj was key to their win in Perth.

    On debut, Maharaja bowled 58.3 overs for just 150 runs, taking four wickets. These figures may not seem particularly striking, but in Australia’s second innings South Africa were without the injured Dale Steyn.

    If Australia had successfully gone after Maharaj in this innings, an enormous amount of pressure would have been put on South Africa’s remaining bowlers. Instead, Maharaj deliverd 40.1 overs for a miserly 94 runs.

    Contrastingly, Australia attacked Pakistan’s Yasir Shah with great effect, the legbreak bowler finishing the series with a bowling average of 84 and an economy rate of 4.53. Australia won the series three-nil.

    This illustrated the fact that, despite Australia potentially having the worst conditions for spin of any Test-playing nation, the spinner is still crucial to the team’s performance.

    Furthermore, a spinner doesn’t need to take bags of wickets in Australia to benefit their side, they just need to be able to tie down an end.

    This links to the first point, as in Perth, Maharaj did his pacemen a massive favour by being able to give them a rest without conceding many runs. The spinner’s performance affects the whole team.

    This was also shown in England’s successful 2010-11 campaign. Here, Swann’s average was an unimpressive 39.80, yet his economy rate was just 2.72, compared to 2013-14, where it was 3.94.

    Unsurprisingly, England’s pace attack was far more effective in 2010-11, despite Stuart Broad missing most the series.

    Graeme Swann before calling it a day from Test cricket

    AAP Image/Dave Hunt

    Ali’s focus must therefore be his economy, which does not come naturally to him.

    Having spent the majority of his career as a batting all-rounder, Ali has done a commendable job as England’s frontline spinner. Yet his economy rate in Test cricket is 3.66, which for an offspinner is on the high side.

    More encouraging is that in 2017, Ali has taken 30 wickets at just 21.29 runs apiece. His economy rate has also been better, but still not great, at 3.33.

    This that if Ali can’t be consistently economical, that he can perhaps take enough wickets to make Australia think twice before attacking him.

    Furthermore, all of Australia’s top three are left-handers, and while it is early days for Matt Renshaw, both David Warner and Usman Khawaja are far more comfortable against pace than spin.

    Perhaps most worrying for England is the question of what to do if he doesn’t perform. In their 16-man squad, they only have one other spinner, in 20-year-old legbreak bowler Mason Crane.

    He is an exciting prospect, but Crane will not tie down an end, as shown by his economy rate in first-class cricket of 3.88. What’s more, his county side, Sussex, haven’t picked on pitches they feel wouldn’t favour him.

    Furthermore, in Ben Stokes’ absence, England lack another all-rounder to cover for Ali if he is struggling. The closest they have to a part-timer is Joe Root, who currently averages 49.26 with the ball in Test cricket.

    In picking Crane as the only backup spinner, the English selectors have placed an enormous amount of pressure on Ali – his performances may end up having a huge influence on the series result.

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    The Crowd Says (14)

    • November 14th 2017 @ 8:42am
      E-Meter said | November 14th 2017 @ 8:42am | ! Report

      Ali’s arm balls will have Warner quivering like an Italian soldier.

    • November 14th 2017 @ 9:23am
      AGordon said | November 14th 2017 @ 9:23am | ! Report

      You left out Ali’s bowling figures in 2015 in Australia Klaus, where he went for well over 40 runs a wicket. .I’m sure he’s improved, but I’m also sure guys like Warner and Smith have at playing spin.

      You’re right, there’s going to be huge pressure on him to spell the quicks, to tie up an end and maybe get a wicket or two. I just can’t see him doing that, based on previous performances. If I were an English quick, the prospect of bowling lots of overs looms large, because the other bowlers just won’t provide support. Might be a long, hot summer for Anderson and Broad.

    • Roar Rookie

      November 14th 2017 @ 9:33am
      JamesH said | November 14th 2017 @ 9:33am | ! Report

      I’m not sure I would go as far as saying his bowling could decide the Ashes, but he is certainly important to England’s chances. They can easily still lose if he does a tidy job but I’m not sure they can win if he leaks runs.

      I think Moeen’s batting will be very important and he seems like someone who will enjoy batting on Australia’s pitches. He’s strong on the cut and the pull so the pace and bounce shouldn’t worry him the way it might bother a few of England’s other batsmen.

      • November 15th 2017 @ 4:39am
        dave said | November 15th 2017 @ 4:39am | ! Report

        Ali can also bat very well and he has a knack of taking wickets unexpectedly; he is one of the poms to watch.

    • November 14th 2017 @ 9:57am
      Jameswm said | November 14th 2017 @ 9:57am | ! Report

      Moeen’s bowling is even more important if England play 3 quicks (with no Stokes). If Moeen and Bairstow bat at 6 and 7 with 4 mediums to follow, they can cover for him better and we’re better off milking him.

    • November 14th 2017 @ 10:58am
      Junior Coach said | November 14th 2017 @ 10:58am | ! Report

      he will be milked at 5-6 runs an over on hard pitches and fast outfields.

    • November 14th 2017 @ 1:38pm
      Ouch said | November 14th 2017 @ 1:38pm | ! Report

      He will be effective if our batsmen fail to show him due respect and try to hit him out of the park.

      • November 15th 2017 @ 1:36pm
        JohnB said | November 15th 2017 @ 1:36pm | ! Report

        That’s it in a nutshell. Klaus’ basic premise – that the spinner in Australia is generally there to tie up one end once the new ball ages, allowing the pace bowlers to rotate through the other end – is right, but Moeen hasn’t shown himself to be the sort of bowler who can do that effectively.

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