India tour of England 2014, 4th Test at Manchester: India’s handling of Moeen Ali has been baffling
Moeen Ali celebrates the dismissal of Cheteshwar Pujara on the third day of the fourth Test between England and India at Old Trafford © Getty Images
India were bowled out for just 161 in their second innings in less than two sessions with Moeen Ali again capturing four for 39. Shiamak Unwalla looks at how the Indian batsmen have struggled against a man who was considered a mere part-timer at the start of the series.
When a team scores just 367 and still goes on to win by an innings and 54 runs, you know the opposition had to be quite abysmal. England scored what seemed like a just about par total of 367 — they weren’t even all out, since Stuart Broad had to walk off with an injury — and still managed to score more than twice of what India could do in two innings.
That India got the worst conditions for batting seen in the entire series cannot be disputed. On the first day, under overcast conditions and against some fearsome pace bowling by Broad and James Anderson, they were always going to struggle. Eight for four, though, was taking things a bit too far.
However, it was the second innings that India should truly be ashamed of. The conditions were perhaps the best they had been for batting since the first day at Southampton; there was hardly any lateral movement, the bounce was uneven but not unmanageable, and Stuart Broad — the man who took six wickets in the first innings — wasn’t even on the field, Anderson seemed rather off colour, and neither Chris Woakes nor Chris Jordan looked in the least bit threatening.
But then, there was Moeen Ali, bowling what the Indian batsmen must feel is his “mystery spin.” Anderson and Woakes had already got rid of the two openers by the time Moeen began to spin his web. First it was the unshakable Cheteshwar Pujara, who has looked more and more shakeable with each passing innings. To be fair, it was not the best of LBW decisions; the ball would not have hit the stumps. However, his technique of playing him — eyes not following the ball to the very end, big gap between bat and pad, and marked discomfort while playing Moeen — left a lot to be desired. India were 53 for three.
Then it was Ajinkya Rahane. India’s best batsman of the series, and certainly their best batsman overseas since 2013. He stepped out, and chipped it back to Moeen. It was not a shot that he will enjoy watching again. It is a shot he might hope never to play again. India 61 for four.
Ravindra Jadeja made his intentions known early on when he stepped out and slapped a delivery from Anderson for a boundary through midwicket. Against Moeen though, he tried to defend. And got the outside edge to the man at slip. India 66 for six.
MS Dhoni is perhaps the one batsman who has played Moeen consistently well throughout the series. Here, he was out trying to hit Moeen out of the attack and was snapped up with a terrific catch by Gary Ballance at midwicket. India 105 for seven.
What has been truly shocking is that Moeen now has 19 wickets, second behind only Ray Illingworth (20) on the list of spinners with the most wickets in India-England clashes in England. He currently averages 22.94 and has a strike rate of 38.7 in this series —tremendous figures for any bowler, much less a “part timer.” The way the Indian batsmen have been playing him, it would seem that England’s spinning woes are over. Whether his numbers are due to great bowling or abysmal batting is another matter.
As was discussed in a previous article, India have not played him well at all. The batsmen have either looked to hit him out of the attack (Stuart Binny and MS Dhoni have been guilty of this) or have shown him far too much respect (Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara are the culprits here).
India must decode the Moeen mystery if they are to have any chance of surviving the final Test at The Oval. If they do not, they will suffer the humiliation of having been bundled out by a part-time spinner in England.
Complete coverage of India’s tour of England 2014
(Shiamak Unwalla is a reporter with Cricket Country. He is a self-confessed Sci-Fi geek and Cricket fanatic who likes to pass his free time by reading books, watching TV shows, and eating food. Sometimes all at the same time. You can follow him on twitter at @ShiamakUnwalla)