How MS Dhoni helped Moeen Ali's England career

  • Getting him to bat at No 3 helped the all-rounder in IPL and he has carried that confidence into the World T20.
Moeen Ali the batsman flourished under MS Dhoni at Chennai Super Kings. (Twitter) PREMIUM
Moeen Ali the batsman flourished under MS Dhoni at Chennai Super Kings. (Twitter)
Updated on Oct 26, 2021 11:48 PM IST
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ByVivek Krishnan, New Delhi

At the beginning of April this year, Moeen Ali wasn’t high on confidence. The all-rounder may have been looking over his shoulder in the England dressing room and wondering where his international career was headed. The away series against India - consisting four Tests, three ODIs and five T20Is - had just ended and Ali had spent most of the time on the bench. With quarantines and bio-bubbles becoming part of sport’s lexicon, lack of game-time can be as taxing as a lot of it. 

Having chosen to return to his young family in Birmingham after the first two Tests in Chennai - as part of England’s rotation policy - Ali had clocked more than 4000 air miles to return to India for the limited-over leg. Despite his range of strokes and useful off-spin in subcontinent conditions, though, he was not considered for any of the five T20Is. His opportunities came as an afterthought during the ODI series, where he couldn’t do much of note.   

It’s at this grim juncture that Chennai Super Kings (CSK) entered the fray. They believed in Ali. They stuck to him, they won the league, and with it came a personal turnaround that has seen him re-emerge as a pivotal member of England’s T20 World Cup campaign. England’s opening game against West Indies last Saturday was an illustration of Ali’s varied strengths. Up against a power-packed batting line-up, he opened the bowling and claimed two scalps while conceding just 17 runs in four overs. 

Until the start of this year’s IPL, it was hard to envisage the 34-year-old playing anything more than a bit-part role for England. But at CSK, he was suddenly thrust into the spotlight with a clear brief: bat at No.3 or 4 and play without inhibition. The results were immediate. In his first game, Ali smashed a 24-ball 36 after CSK were precariously placed at 7/2 and allowed them to get to a total of 188. CSK still went on to lose but a pattern was set for the season. Their travails in 2020 had stemmed from a glaring inability to accelerate through the middle overs, but Ali was now going to ensure there wouldn’t be a repeat. A return of 357 runs at a strike rate of 137.30 for the eventual champions suggests that Ali was successful in the role. The six wickets in 25-odd overs came in handy too. 

While Ali always had the desired attributes for the shortest format, there hadn’t been much in the recent past to inspire confidence. Even for Royal Challengers Bangalore, his previous franchise, he was largely used lower down the order with the expectation that he would deliver a couple of handy cameos at best. So, what did CSK see to firstly fork out 7 crore for his services and then entrust him with the responsibility of batting in the top-order?   

The answer lies in MS Dhoni’s discerning eyes, according to CSK CEO Kasi Viswanathan. 

“Dhoni had a lot of confidence in Ali. He played the most crucial role in picking Moeen at the auction and then was able to get the best out of him on the field. The entire credit goes to the skipper,” said Viswanathan.   

It’s well documented how Dhoni and CSK coach Stephen Fleming aren’t too data-driven and prefer to go by instinct. It seems to have done the trick in Ali’s case as well for there wasn’t much in the numbers to suggest that the left-handed batter could be a natural fit at No.3. 

“In the 2018 auction also, we wanted Moeen to be part of the team. But when we got Harbhajan (Singh) early in the auction, we didn’t go after Moeen. The thing with the international players is that Dhoni has seen all of them from close proximity on the field. So, he can gauge whether they will be good enough for us even if they haven’t done much in the IPL. He has that capacity to look beyond stats,” said Viswanathan.   

England seem to have taken a cue from CSK, and are now set to reap the benefits.

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    Vivek Krishnan is a sports journalist who enjoys covering cricket and football among other disciplines. He wanted to be a cricketer himself but has gladly settled for watching and writing on different sports.

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Tuesday, January 18, 2022