Among all the members of England’s touring party, no one was looking more eagerly for a way out of his Ashes rut than Moeen Ali. Outbowled by Nathan Lyon, who also became his nemesis at the batting crease, Moeen was almost completely ineffectual after starting the series well enough in Brisbane.
In the weeks that followed, Moeen admitted losing confidence in himself as a cricketer, but he was part of the ODI team’s collective surge in the opening match at the MCG on Sunday, bowling 10 economical overs and then walking out to hit the winning runs from the bowling of a more modest offspinner in Travis Head.
Lyon’s absence reflects his current status as a Test match specialist, and Moeen said he had revelled in the change-up as part of a team with clear roles and burgeoning confidence that their best, epitomised by Jason Roy’s England ODI record score, is world-class.
“It was nice to move to a different format of the game because the pressure was less, if that makes sense. Bowling to someone like [Aaron] Finch is a great challenge and I felt that having five bowlers meant it was a key role for me,” Moeen said as England travelled up to Brisbane for Friday’s second match. “Something I pride myself on is to go for less boundaries than everybody else. And I did. My confidence from yesterday has gone up a little bit. Hopefully it can keep climbing.
“As a team we know we can beat anybody anywhere, whereas in Test cricket all round the world playing away is very difficult. Even if you believe it’s possible it is difficult to go away and win. The way Australia played throughout the whole five Test matches. They had pace we didn’t have, they had a gun spinner bowling brilliantly – we didn’t – they had batters who scored hundreds and double-hundreds regularly. Again, we didn’t. They were too good for us whereas in the one-day stuff we have players who can break records, as we saw yesterday.
“It just feels like we can genuinely beat anybody anywhere. The attitude is obviously different because it’s a different sort of cricket, so it’s been refreshing. When J-Roy was batting yesterday we were egging him on to beat the record. When he was on about 120 everyone thought he was going to do it. In the back of our heads we have these records but the first focus is to win the game and we know if someone like J-Roy bats the way he does we can beat anybody in the world. And we have players like that all throughout the line-up.”
Reflecting on his Ashes series, which began with a finger problem that restricted his ability to prepare, Moeen said things had seemed more difficult and success more elusive the harder he tried to strive for it. And as much as those close to him tried to help, any genuine progress needed to come from within, and that was an escalating struggle over the course of the five Tests while he wrestled with the unmistakable sense of letting down Joe Root’s team.
“That was the most disappointing thing for me. I feel like I was letting the team down, the fans down,” Moeen said. “The Barmy Army was singing the whole time. When your confidence is low, and you are trying to perform the best you can but it’s not happening it is most disappointing. It’s not that you are not scoring runs or not getting wickets. It’s just that you feel as an individual you are letting your team-mates down. I am sure a few of the guys felt the same thing but that was my biggest fear.
“When you lose a bit of confidence in your own game sometimes you try harder and it can be that the harder you try the worse it gets. That’s what was happening. You try everything – different approaches going into bat, be positive, but nothing really came off and like I said the harder I tried the worse it was getting. These things happen, and you can learn from them.
“When you are losing and not playing well, once it’s done it’s not like a burden [lifted] but you can relax a bit. The intensity is quite high and people talking about you all the time gets to you, even though I am somebody that doesn’t listen too much or read too much. It’s pretty difficult to get away from it and you start doubting yourself as a player. The thing that you have to realise though is that bad performances don’t make you a bad player. So you just have to somehow believe in yourself and keep trying to get back to where you know you can be.”
The mental release of the end of the Ashes coincided with the endorphins released by training with a limited-overs team that has gained plenty of respect around the world, notably from Australia’s captain Steven Smith after the MCG match. Moeen said that the notion of learning from opponents ran both ways, for England in the Tests as much as for Australia in ODIs, and that a key to limited-overs success had been a sense of fun running through the whole squad.
“It’s fun. Very enjoyable,” Moeen said. “There have been times when we have had disappointments as well, but we have had less of those in the last few years and it’s a great environment to be around.
“We watched them and we can learn from the way they played. Australia in the Ashes was a fantastic team. In all departments they outplayed us and we struggled big time and so for us to play the way we played yesterday and beat them was brilliant. We are 1-0 up after one game and our challenge is to do what they did to us in the Test matches now. We’ve got to be a little bit better at that as a team. We know that but the main thing is to win the series, learn and improve from here going forward.”