England’s stirring first Test win of their two-match series against New Zealand will long be remembered for Alastair Cook’s return to his stoic best and Ben Stokes’ calypso innings which broke the Lord’s record books.
However, the ramifications of a more understated performance from a man searching for his identity within England’s second post-Peter Moores era, are just as positive at the onset of an Ashes summer.
Moeen Ali’s personal contribution of four wickets and 101 runs for the match, not to mention his athletic catch to finally bring the curtain down on a thrilling contest, cannot be underestimated because of his new role in the team.
Due to his recognised stronger suit of batting which saw the Worcester man compile the highest amount of runs in first-class cricket during 2013, the all-rounder has always been played as a higher order batsman in all formats since breaking into the England set-up.
However, at Test level his form with the willow has come up a little short of the mark, while his ability with the ball has been overlooked too often in England’s attack – despite best figures of 6-67 against India at the Rose Bowl last summer.
A drop down to number eight with Stokes excelling at six, looks a masterstroke from the temporary England hierarchy though, placing more faith in his spin and suddenly giving England’s batting line-up a game-swinging depth.
Although Moeen was eclipsed by others with the ball at Lord’s, his dislodging of Kiwi opener Tom Latham, but more pertinently the ultra stubborn Kane Williamson on 132 during the first innings, were really crucial wickets.
Knocks of 58 and 43 were more important for their longevity at the crease and supportive nature – very nearly two hours a pop – than the fluency of the stroke play.
Issues still remain around the short ball, which the likes of Trent Boult and later in the summer Mitchell Johnson no doubt, will continue to look to exploit, but the early signs are very encouraging.
It’s vital that victory against a side that have sprung up the Test rankings to third isn’t over egged, but the sense of possible impending doom that had accompanied England, has now been replaced with genuine optimism.
Moeen as much as Stokes and Cook embodies this, and with only a draw required at Headingly to clinch the series at 4/11, a perfect start to the Test summer now looks well within reach.
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