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Moeen Ali seeks to break cultural barriers in England

Moeen Ali has bamboozled the famed spin experts, India through top class displays in the ongoing Test series © Getty Images
Moeen Ali (Right) has bamboozled the famed spin experts, India through top class displays in the ongoing Test series © Getty Images

By Julian Guyer

London: Aug 13, 2014 

Moeen Ali admitted he had endured a steep learning curve in his brief England career. Ali, in his first season as an international cricketer, has been a key figure in the series with India. Heading into the fifth and final Test at The Oval, starting on Friday, Ali has been pivotal in England wins at Southampton and Manchester that have transformed a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 lead.

However, the practising Muslim also courted controversy by wearing ‘Save Gaza’ and ‘Free Palestine’ wristbands in last month’s win over India at Southampton. The International Cricket Council (ICC) ordered Ali to remove the wristbands, saying they breached their regulations about players making “political” statements.

“I didn’t think it would be such a big deal,” said the 27-year-old, whose distinctive long beard is a visible sign of his religious belief.

“I just totally forgot I had them on when I went into bat,” he said as he spoke publicly about the incident for the first time. “Obviously it all came out, but it didn’t bother me one bit.”

However, he admitted: “I have to be a lot more careful. ICC didn’t allow me to wear them and I accepted that. I have a lot of opinions on a lot of stuff, but it’s not the time and place now to go into it.

“I wasn’t trying to be political — it was just a humanitarian thing.

“I’ve got a lot of positive reaction and I’d really like to say thanks to the ECB (England and Wales Cricket Board) for supporting me about it.”

Ali said he was conscious of his position as a high-profile British Muslim and was keen to demonstrate to members of his community that they too could represent England.

“That’s the kind of barrier I want to try and break down — that people think it is tough and will treat you badly if you’re a practising Muslim.

“That is the reason I like to play cricket for England — because I can break down barriers for other people and inspire kids, not just Asian kids but all kids, to play.

“Previously a lot of them wanted to play for India and Pakistan, but now I get a lot more Asians coming up to me saying they’re supporting England.”

Turning to his bowling, Ali said advice from England team-mate Ian Bell, a renowned player of spin bowling, and Sri Lankan umpire Kumar Dharmasena that had proved pivotal in his rapid development.

“After the first Test at Trent Bridge, where I went for quite a few runs, I sat down and analysed it and felt the need for change.”

“Belly took me to one side and said ‘Look, this is what you’ve got to do to be consistent in the Test side — this is what Swanny (Graeme Swann) did, bowl quicker and straighter, especially on a first-day pitch.

“Then I went into the nets and the umpire Kumar Dharmasena was there, and I asked him ‘as a former off-spinner, how can I bowl quicker without it being flat?’

“He said to me ‘just grab your pocket as quickly as you can with your non-bowling arm’,” Ali explained.

“As soon as I bowled one ball I knew it would work,” he added. “That, for some reason, allows me to bowl quicker and straighter without being flat.”

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