It’s the final session of the ultimate Test at Old Trafford, Duanne Olivier is on strike while Moeen Ali has the red leather in his hand. England are just a solitary wicket away from another scintillating win and Mooen Ali provides one. He induces an outside edge of Olivier’s willow and Ben Stokes cups it at first slip. That’s it, the tenth wicket has fallen and England have won the game by 177 runs. The crowd is elated and English players are celebrating.
Moeen Ali had a huge role to play behind this victory and claimed his fourth Test fifer. England, on the other hand, have won a Test series against South Africa at home after 19 long years. Ali has been on a roll in the recent times, he’s been scoring crucial runs lower down the order, picks key wickets and gets the job done silently. He’s been one of the silent assassins in the English line-up and has been prolific in this series on a whole.
At Old Trafford, England were in total command with a healthy lead in the first innings. But south African bowlers bounced back emphatically in the second innings to pick key wickets at regular junctures and put England in hot water. At 134 for 6, England needed some crucial runs to put pressure back on South Africa but most of their batsmen were back in the pavilion. Moeen Ali took guard when sixth England wicket in the form of Ben Stokes had fallen.
Ali played the kind of innings, which England were desperately looking for and steered his side to safe waters. Bairstow was undone for 10 and the English tail was open. Ali took his chances and started pouncing on opportunities offered. Toby Roland-Jones confronted 30 deliveries for his 11 as Kagiso Rabada got the better of him. Ali was running out of partners but played a vital cameo of an unbeaten 75 off 66 deliveries. He smashed nine boundaries and three maximums to help his side put 243 runs in the second innings. The pitch had enough rough patches for the spinners to exploit and Keshav Maharaj was getting the ball to turn. Being a left-handed, Ali took advantage of the ball turning towards him and smashed five boundaries and three sixes off Maharaj’s bowling.
South Africa had a mountain to climb in chasing 380 in the fourth innings. They had almost six sessions to be played and the task required the best out of South African batsmen. English seamers did well in chipping three early wickets before lunch and put their side in the driving seat. At the crease were South Africa’s two most reliable batsmen – Hashim Amla and Faf du Plessis. The duo showed good resistance and runs started to come for South Africa. If South Africa had any chance of putting up a battle then this was the partnership that could have done so.
Amla looked totally composed and was playing the English attack with immense confidence. While batting on 83, Amla moved across the line to Ali, but missed the flick and the ball crashed into his pads. The on-field umpire gave it not out but the decision was later reversed and Ali provided the much-needed breakthrough. Du Plessis and Amla accounted for 123 runs between them.
Although Amla was back into the pavilion, but South Africa still had some explosive batting to come. Moments later, Mooen Ali tempted Quinton de Kock with a full, flighted delivery that pitched on the rough. The southpaw went for the drive but managed a fine outside edge, which was cupped by Alastair Cook at first slip. On the last delivery of the same over, Theunis de Bruyn edged one to Ben Stokes on the one that didn’t turn. Mooen Ali was tightening the noose around South Africa and turning out to be the catalyst in England’s victory.
James Anderson got rid of Faf du Plessis and Rabada as England were now just a couple of wickets away from a win. Morkel tried to counter-attack but was safely caught by Joe Root at mid-off on the first ball as Ali had four scalps under his belt now. He didn’t stop there, Olivier was undone on the very next delivery as England romped home to another victory.
For this magnificent outing, Moeen Ali was also adjudged as Man of the Match and now has five such awards in his basket. To add to his good fortunes, the Man of the Series award was also shared between him and Morkel. He finished the series with 252 runs to his name at an average of 36. And, with the ball, he inspired immense confidence by scalping 25 wickets at a staggering average of 15.64. During the Lords Test, he became the fifth-fastest in terms of matches played to record 2000 runs and pick 100 Test wickets, which came in 38 Test outings.
The fact that Mooen Ali is capable of getting wickets on surfaces that do not offer enough turn is amazing. Slow and steadily, Mooen Ali has developed into England’s premiere spinner and has inflicted massive damage with the ball. It’s a huge booster for the all-rounder with Ashes being just a few months away. Former English all-rounder Sir Ian Botham did similar damage during his prime and Ali has been playing a similar role now, especially in this series.