Moeen enjoys challenge of opener’s role

Dubai:Moin Ali believes Pakistan have been given a “nudge” after England finished the first Test within touching distance of victory. The pre-series reckoning made England distant second-favourites, but they put 598 on the board and produced a remarkable final-day performance before bad light thwarted them.

The scales were evened significantly before a ball was bowled when legspinner Yasir Shah was ruled out with a back injury and he is set to return for the second Test in Dubai on a pitch, prepared by Australian groundsman Tony Hemming, that is being tipped to offer more assistance although that could be a relative term.

Whatever, in Abu Dhabi Pakistan had the early advantage of winning the toss and produced a first innings of 523 only to be the side pushed into a corner on the final day.

“It’s given us a lot of confidence and probably given Pakistan a bit of a nudge as well that we are here to be serious,” Moeen said. “We probably caught them off guard a bit in that last session, but I’m sure they’ll come back stronger and be well aware of it now. They know we are here for the challenge and have a good chance of winning the series.”

For Moeen, the Test marked his first occasion opening the batting in first-class cricket. After more than five sessions in the field he helped England see out the second evening without loss before eventually contributing 35 off 131 balls to an opening stand of 116 with Alastair Cook. He said his presence at the top aids the balance of the team but knows he will need substantial scores to stay there.

Moeen’s scoring rate was in stark contrast to his counter-attacking batting from No. 8 in the Ashes – where he had a strike-rate of 71.46 – and, although he said it was not a conscious effort to rein himself in, it was a further example of the adaptability which has seen him take up a variety of roles across all three formats of the game.

“I didn’t mean to play slower than normal, I thought they bowled well, bowled straight, and when the spinners came on and they had men back probably knowing I like to attack the spinners,” he said. “It’s one of those things, the odd innings I’ll play a little slower and then I’ll be quicker than the other day. It was just nice to just leave or defend a few balls.

“I really enjoyed it and feel like I can play properly, more like a batter again, rather than coming in later and playing a few shots.”

If the Dubai surface does encourage spinners earlier in the contest, Moeen’s other role – his offspin – could have a greater impact. He admitted “I didn’t feel like I would take a wicket” during the first innings, where he had none for 121 from 30 overs, but added that he enjoyed the scalp of Misbah-ul-Haq on the final afternoon when the Pakistan captain charged and missed to prompt hasten their dramatic slide.

“I was a bit surprised when he came down the wicket,” he said. “It’s always nice to get big players out in the opposition, I found it tough bowling at him. It would be nice if they had a few left-handed batsmen as well. The way we bowled at the end they may come at us a different way.”

For the first time in his Test career, Moeen was operating as part of a specialist spin pairing Adil Rashid with (previously he has only had Joe Root alongside him). The two are extremely close, and though Moeen did not want to over-play his role in helping Rashid, who responded to none for 163 in the first innings with 5 for 64, there is little doubt the friendship will have helped Rashid spirits.

“We just went out, get some food like we do every night and just talked about how we are going to bowl in the second innings and maybe what he should have done,” Moeen said. “But it was a very tough pitch to bowl spin on. We felt he’d bowled alright, it was just that they attacked him on debut. He’s not someone who gets down. We both have similar characters – don’t get down or get too over-excited.”

There was also one other subtle role that Moeen played which may have had a key bearing on the first Test: being able to understand Pakistan’s chat in the field. “When they had a plan for Cooky I was telling him what they will do,” he said.

Although Moeen fell before lunch on the third day, by then Cook was on 75 and well into the rhythm that would see him compile a 14-hour 263. Perhaps Pakistan will want to be a little discreet with their on-field chats from now on.


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