Moeen Ali struggles against another short ball against India at Chennai. (Courtesy: IANS)
Moeen Ali struggles against another short ball against India at Chennai. (Courtesy: IANS)

Short balls have troubled the best of batters. Quality short balls have even felled the Pontings, Laras and Tendulkars. Steve Waugh had serious issues, so did Sourav Ganguly but they found a way to negotiate it and minimise stroke play off it, and went on to score aplenty. And mind you, they came against quality attacks. However, in times where machismo has taken over basics, the likes of Suresh Raina and Moeen Ali continue to struggle against the short-pitched ploy. Worse, they have been falling to school cricket traps laid for them. One of them was at exhibition in the Day Two morning session of the Chennai Test between India and England. I will come to that.

Cut to Day One. Moeen displayed enough discipline to craft a fine 120 not out by the end of the day. He played the ball late. He had a torrid time against Ravichandran Ashwin in the first session of the day. In the second session, he displayed a more positive approach. He went for runs if they were to be taken. There were some fine drives, elegant flicks but Indians missed out on a trick of not peppering him with enough bouncers. The pacers bowled fuller lengths thinking Moeen s wicket was for Ashwin to take.

FULL CRICKET SCORECARD: India vs England, 5th Test at Chennai

In process, Moeen became only the third cricketer after Ian Botham and Jacques Kallis to score over 1,000 Test runs and claim over 30 wickets in a calendar year.

This year batting has gone quite well. It is tough when you do not have a consistent number. Hopefully, I’ll have a spot to myself, said Moeen after the second day s play.

He notched up his fourth hundred this year. He averages 47 with the bat in 2016. Everything is looking fine?

No. Moeen fell to the age-old trap. He succumbed to another short-pitched ploy.

It was not an easy wicket, it was two-paced and to take it on was the best option at the time. Obviously it was not, Moeen added about falling to India s trap.

VVS Laxman was livid over Moeen s dismissal.

There were three fielders waiting for the miscued pull. Kohli had just placed the cover fielder to short-leg and therefore it was evident that Umesh was going to bowl him short. He still went for the start. If you are not mentally strong against these ploys then you won t succeed in international cricket against the likes of these quality pacers, fumed Laxman at the end of the day s play.

How Kohli and co. trapped Moeen?

Fourth over of the day, Virat Kohli had Amit Mishra stationed at fine leg, Ishant banged one short and Moeen showed no qualms in pulling that. He mishit that and the ball landed short of Mishra. We get a fair idea of what is to follow.

So does Moeen but he does little to prepare.

Moeen decides to attack Ashwin while Ishant decides to test debutant Liam Dawson with chin music, striking him on the head.

Kohli replaced Ishant with Umesh opting for extra pace. A few quiet overs and then a drinks break later, Umesh continued with the short-pitched tactic.

103.1: Umesh bangs one short at 143 kph and Moeen pulls it front of square for two. It was wide outside off-stump which gave Moeen the time to free his arms. Mohammed Shami in Mohali had cramped him for the room.

103.2: Taking a leaf out of Shami s books, Umesh bangs another short from around the wicket at 141 kph. No room. Moeen gets into an awkward position as the ball thuds into his chest guard. The angle made it difficult.

103.3: Another similar well-directed delivery from Umesh at 140 kph. The ball smashes in the armpit. He gets some medical attention. Moeen looks a bit disoriented. Kohli rightly gets the he cover fielder to forward short-leg.

103.4: GONE! Moeen falls to the fourth consecutive short ball bowled at him. The ball is not there to be pulled. There is a deep midwicket and a deep square-leg waiting for that and why would Moeen, a batsman settled on 146, go for that shot? Moeen mistimes and finds Jadeja at deep midwicket.

He knows his strengths. Was the risk worth taking? Knowing he relies more on timing than strength, the shot could have fetched him a single at most. So much risk for a single?

A simple let go could have been enough. Isn t it?

The pundits hailed India s short-pitched ploy of succeeding against Moeen. But it was rather mindless (harsh word but true) of Moeen to go for that stroke in first place. India too delayed in the ploy of going ahead with it.

Lord s 2014

India s tour of England in 2014 will be best remembered for Moeen s exploits with the ball.

India managed a solitary win, that too at Lord s. The Moeen wicket triggered the English collapse.

England were chasing 319. Joe Root and Moeen had now added 101 for the fifth wicket. England had recovered to 173 for 4.

A change in tactic saw MS Dhoni asking Ishant to bang it in short. He did. Remember he will readily jump from the 24th floor if Dhoni asked him to?

Ishant banged in short. Moeen took his eye off the ball. He looked to pull. No, went to duck and in the dilemma, he gloved it to Cheteshwar Pujara at short leg.

Several short balls later, England were bowled out for 223 and Ishant ended with a 7-for. It was then when Moeen s issues with short balls came into foray.

A technical deficit

Quite early in Moeen s career, his weakness was identified. Like Raina, he has often been roughed up by quality short balls and then fell to traps laid off fuller deliveries.

Like this:

If the ball is slow, he can smash it out of the park, especially in limited-overs cricket but against quality pace, he does not hesitate in playing the pull shot but has little control over the stroke when he does so.

England have experimented a lot with Moeen s position in the batting order. Sometimes at No. 8, sometimes opening, his latest role is batting at No. 4, the number where the likes of Kohli or a Steven Smith bats.

Let us be honest. Moeen is not in the same league. He has his limitations and even the best have technical deficiencies.

England have identified Moeen as one of their key all-rounders and in all probability will be a part of the Ashes that will be played Down Under next year.

Mind you, the Australians have surely made a note of Moeen s dismissal and they have already begun training Mitchell Starc for the Mitchell Johnson-role of 2013-14.

Moeen Ali evades a short ball against India at Trent Bridge in 2014 (Courtesy: Getty Images)
Moeen Ali evades a short ball against India at Trent Bridge in 2014 (Courtesy: Getty Images)

Moeen is a compulsive hooker, who likes to naturally attack, however, the risks haven t paid him rich dividends. The question is: does he have the reflexes or does his upright stance allow him to get into the correct position and gain control.

Umesh s extra pace did the trick here and good teams have pace bowlers who can consistently clock in excess of 140 kph.

These days, sides spend moolahs over support staff. Moeen has been relentlessly working alongside Saqlain Mushtaq to hone his off-spin.

It would not be difficult for him to work alongside batting coach Mark Ramprakash in the nets and improve his technique of letting go short balls. It s better to let them go than fall to them.

Moeen is a mentally tough character and that can be gauged with his match-defining shows as an all-rounder. England cricket have invested a lot in him and he definitely has the ingredients to shine as a world-class cricketer.

But at this level, you cannot be repeating mistakes. He cannot fall the Raina way. If you do that, the consistency takes a hit and that becomes the difference between good players and the greats.

Moeen played a fine knock at Chepauk but his dismissal went on to be the difference between a 477 and a possible 550. A slight adjustment in temperament and technique, and England will be better placed for sure.

However, Moeen may be disagreeing with this piece, like he did with former India cricketer and commentator Aakash Chopra on Saturday evening. Moeen took to Twitter and gave a sarcastic reply to a tweet by Chopra in which he had shared one of his articles written on the England batsman s frailties. Rather than admitting his shortcomings and working on them, Moeen decided to hit out at the criticism.

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However, Moeen apologised soon, admitting his reaction was unnecessary. But aren t you judged by your first reactions most of the times?