British-Pakistani spin bowler Moeen Ali has revealed how he colluded with a former Sri Lankan off-spinner to snare a bucket load of Indian wickets during the ongoing Investec Test Series.
Ali, 27, has been the summer’s biggest sensation, picking up 19 wickets as India’s batsmen – legendary for their prowess against spinners – have surrendered rather meekly to Ali’s apparently innocuous-looking twirlers.
Ali told the Daily Telegraph that inspiration came a day before last month’s Lord’s Test – which India went onto win – as he was practising in the nets and ran into Kumar Dharmasena, the Sri Lankan umpire and one-time partner-in-crime of Muttiah Muralitharen.
“After the first Test at Trent Bridge, where I went for quite a few runs, I sat down and analysed my bowling and felt the need for change. Then Belly (Ian Bell) took me to one side on the practice day at Lord’s and said: ‘Look, this is what you’ve got to do to be consistent in the Test side, this is what Swanny (Greame Swann) did, bowl quicker and straighter, especially on a first-day pitch’”, Ali says.
“Then I went into the nets and the umpire Kumar Dharmasena was there and I asked him, as a former off-spinner, how could I bowl quicker without it being flat.
Dharmasena’s response? “Just grab your pocket as quickly as you can with your non-bowling arm.”
Ali continued: “As soon as I bowled one ball I knew it would work. That, for some reason, allows me to bowl quicker and straighter without being flat. I knew that was how I needed to bowl from then on. It’s completely different from county cricket.
“I bowled there in the eye line, as people say, and I didn’t have consistency. As soon as I bowled that way for England, I got hammered, especially by India and Sri Lanka because they use their feet so well.
“Even slightly good balls disappear. So I had to bowl quicker and straighter and to my field a bit more.”
Dharmasena – who played 31 Test Matches and took 69 wickets – is famous for his distinctive, bustling run up to the crease and the kind of off-spinners that Ali describes: quick and straight, which actually made him a far more successful One Day International bowler.
Ali’s run up is more orthodox and grabbing the left pocket with his left hand at the very end of his bowling action gives his bowling arm – strangely enough – a certain added impetus.
India’s batsmen have certainly noticed. Or perhaps not.
Ali has picked up his wickets at the outstanding average of 22.94 and caused two Indian batting collapses already: once in the second innings of the third test in Southampton and more recently with a four-wicket haul at Old Trafford.
And the accolades have begun pouring in and a bowler who Geoffrey Boycott described as someone his mother could face (during the preceding Sri Lanka series) is now England’s front-line spinner with his exceptionally elegant batting a magnificent bonus for the home side.
But the softly spoken Ali says he’s not going to get carried away.
“I do feel I’ve taken a big step towards being a decent Test spinner. I feel like I have more control, and that my captain and team-mates can trust me. But I don’t want to speak too soon in case I get hammered on Friday but I feel very confident.”