Saturday, 22 November 2014 00:10
ESPNCricinfo: Moeen Ali had readily admitted that he liked the sound of an opening role should it ever come along. His opportunity came sooner than he might have expected, in England’s first warm-up match of their Sri Lanka tour.
A scoreboard reading 25 for 0 after only two overs, one of which was a maiden to Alastair Cook, told that he could not have begun the job much more emphatically.
“I said to Cookie at the end of the over that I didn’t mean to hit six fours, it just happened,” Moeen said, all matter-of-factly. But hit six fours he did, as Sri Lanka A’s left-arm quick Vishwa Fernando knew only too well: a quartet of off-side drives, the first from a full toss, followed by two blows to leg in an over which also included a wide that encapsulated Fernando’s confusion.
There had been so much consternation in the public prints over the replacement of Alex Hales at the top of the order - a decision that strengthened England’s reputation for caution - that Moeen’s attacking qualities had almost passed unremarked upon. But Moeen, as he showed in flashes during his debut international summer, can catch a quick tide. “I can adapt,” he said. “I am very comfortable batting there.”
Moeen’s presence in the top six also gave England an extra spin-bowling option, more than useful in Sri Lankan conditions, and his reputation gained further lustre by three wickets earlier in the day as Sri Lanka A reached 198 for 6 in a match reduced to 43 overs by overnight rain. As for Fernando, from the Bloomfield club, he did not bowl again after his fateful over. With England well on the way to victory, he sprained an ankle in the field and was carried off, never to be seen again.
Watching England’s one-day side at the start of an innings is normally an experience to settle into. The temptation as the lunch interval ticked away at the Sinhalese Sports Club had been to catch a tuk tuk to Coffee Bean and to forego the formalities. It is fortunate the temptation was resisted: in roughly the time it would take to down a giant size latte with chocolate cake, Moeen had a 21-ball 50.
“Play without fear” had been the intonation from all and sundry ahead of the seven-match ODI tour that England hope will bolster their self-belief for the 2015 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. Dropping Hales, a batsman who symbolises that sense of adventure, suggested that England were still intent on playing a waiting game.
But Moeen does not need encouragement to play freely; it is in his nature. He lofted the offspinner Ramith Rambukwella, over long-on to reach his 50 but it was his last extravagant moment and he finished in somewhat sedate fashion before he perished at fine leg.
By the time light abruptly fell out of the day, England’s chase looked a formality - the Duckworth Lewis tables made the victory 56 runs - and Alastair Cook had assembled a half-century of his own, one of acceptable tempo, too, 54 from 62 balls when an unflustered innings came to grief at deep mid-on as he tried to loft Lahiru Gamage down the ground.
Kusal Perera’s half-century provided the bedrock for Sri Lanka A before they subsided to 122 for 6, but an unbroken seventh-wicket stand of 76 between Jeevan Mendis and Rambukwella took them close to 200 on a slow pitch.
England’s most uncomfortable moments belonged to Chris Jordan, who was expensive and whose second over contained three wides, a no-ball and a free-hit six over long-on for Perera. But Moeen took two wickets in a single over, Niroshan Dickwella succumbing to a top-edged sweep and Dinesh Chandimal, a former Sri Lanka T20 captain, falling for a second-ball duck as Cook clung on at leg slip. Mendis and Rambukwella then made a match of it, but in a single over Moeen indicated that their efforts would be in vain.