Moeen Ali fixes England's problems

3000 runs and 200 wickets for the improbably all rounder.

Is Moeen Ali the worst player on the greatest list of all-rounders ever? It’s in no way a slight, but there is something odd about Moeen Ali with 3000 runs and 200 wickets joining a list of 15 other players. Every single one of them is a legend for their nation. Some are just all-time legends of the game. Moeen Ali is neither.

Kallis, Sobers, Hadlee, Ashwin, Botham and Imran. I mean, wow. Let’s add a few more, Kapil, Pollock, Shakib, Cairns, Flintoff, Vettori, Warne and Broad.

In fact, here are the guys not on this list, Jadeja, Constantine, Akram, Miller, Faulkner, Greig and Bailey. To get on this list is not a small thing. And to be the worst player on it is not an insult, because it’s like being the 15th worst footballer from Brazil. Or being the least talented Traveling Wilburys.

Moeen Ali is the Jim Keltner of great all-rounders.

He is handy, on both sides of the ball, and because of that has endless use to England. But really what he is to them is the answer to every question when they don’t know what to do. If English cricket has a problem, they throw Moeen Ali at it.

Of course, this is a counting stat. Moeen has been an allrounder for a team that plays an awful lot of cricket for the best part of a decade. Because of that, he has been able to join this list that if you are from a smaller country would be hard to join if you weren’t a star with a 15-year career.

However, let’s compare Moeen to Jason Holder. They have played almost as many matches as each other in their careers. Holder has a much better reputation, and you look at the average differential and you see why.

If you look at them in terms of runs, they’ve made about as many as each other per game. And Holder averages two more with the bat.

Moeen has 50 more wickets from four extra matches. His bowling average is eight worse than Holder, but Moeen is a counting stats guy. His averages are not pretty, but he produces runs and wickets at a rate only 16 players have in a long career. Holder is a long way off from joining this list, despite being a fantastic player over a span similar to Moeen’s.

But he’s also not here by accident, Moeen did produce a metric ton of cricket numbers. And if you just look at it this way, only 206 players have 3000 runs, and 82 have 200 wickets. Regardless of the amount of cricket England play, doing either of these things is tough. Doing both and you enter something so exclusive that you could get all of them on a bus.

Not that Moeen is bossing this list, if you look at the average differential, which is a flawed metric to judge all-rounders. Moeen has the second-worst record on here. And the two guys on either side of him are not all-rounders. Both had some batting skill, but more as handy number eights than legit batting options.

But for Moeen to be here is even more weird, because he was not an all-rounder when he started his professional career. Most all-rounders are incredible athletes and are seen with bat and ball in the womb. He was not even close. The first year for Worcestershire he bowls 20 overs a game is when he makes his England debut. He was a part-timer when he was chosen to be the Test spinner.

If you look at his Worcestershire record he takes less than a wicket and a half per match for them, and then he doubled that for England.  That is incredible, essentially Moeen learned how to be a frontline spinner at the Test level.  It was like getting the work experience kid to represent you in court, and it worked.

Moeen even averages less for England than he does for Worcestershire. Now some of this is pitches, because he bowls on better surfaces for spin with England, and he gets access to day five. But even so, this is not normal.

In fact, Moeen while being a very traditional off-spinner, with drift, and no doosra, bowls quite slow, but when you look at him by strike rate and econ he is in the same cluster as pace bowlers. Truly a baffling creation.

I originally thought maybe he was more like a leg spinner, but this is just the spinners, he is nothing like them at all. He is on his own.

So let us compare him just to the other finger spinners with a lot of wickets. And this is when you really get it. He is 0.6 runs an over worse than the second least economical finger spinner ever. And there there is less of a difference between him and second than there is from 11th to second.

His reputation is of a bowler of unplayable balls peppered in between full tosses and half volleys is exactly what we see here. He is unlike any finger spinner or even any bowler. With 200 wickets.

But as an all-rounder that is ok, because he also bats.

And what of his batting? In first-class cricket he is a proper batter, he broke through into that game that way. But look at the drop from Worcs to England. This looks like he is two different batters by team, but he is.

For England, Moeen has batted everywhere. When something has gone wrong, or the team doesn’t make sense, let’s just give Moeen a new slot. I suppose nominally he has been a number seven, but he’s almost been at eight as much.

If it was just that, it would be tricky. Moeen has really struggled when batting at eight, he feels the tyranny of the batting position almost crushes him and he ends up as a party slogger at times. At seven he’s been good.

That is underselling it a bit as well. In the matches he’s played, the number sevens from the opposition have averaged just over 26 and a half, where he is seven runs better. He also averages more than all number sevens during his career. So he’s not a great number seven, but he’s more than 10% better than average.

If Moeen had stayed at seven, he probably averaged around 35, and that is a fantastic record for that position. But he doesn’t always bat there. Because England has thrown him into every different spot they have, depending on their issues. So he opens, bats four, five and six when needed.

And ofcourse now he is their number three. That is all the more weird because Moeen Ali is a number three traditionally. Well, a number three or four. Because that is where he always batted for Worcs.

I have seen this problem before, you can call it the Mike Yardy Poser.

Like Moeen, Yardy was a top-order batter his whole life until he was picked for England as a limited-overs spinner. At first, England thought they were getting a bonus, extra batting with his bowling. In ODI cricket he averaged 20 with a strike rate of 69.

In 24 matches he batted everywhere from three to nine. The problem was that while he could bat, there was no obvious spot for him in the ODI team. He was a career player for Sussex, but while he made 10,000 first-class runs, he wasn’t anything like that in white-ball cricket. And so England would have been better off treating him like a bowler who could bat a little. And probably just letting him bat at seven or eight.

Mike Yardy’s career ended in 2011. Moeen Ali made his debut in 2014.

While there are some similarities here, Moeen is clearly a better first-class batter than Yardy ever was at List A. His fit is still weird. Because he’s not good enough to bat full time at three or four for England. But also not so bad that you can forget that he can bat. And so England moves him around in a way that would bother any top order player. Especially someone like Moeen is probably at best a fringe Test batting talent.

But of course, now he is batting at three again. Or a false three. Not through any grand plan, he’s only in this side by accident in the first place. Jack Leach’s back got him in the side, and Ollie Pope’s arm got him up the order. Like it’s classic Moeen Ali all the way through.

He is batting at number three for England because of a collection of events that had nothing to do with him.  And because Moeen is the answer Englan always end up at. Can’t find a spinner, how about this batter from Worcestershire? Can’t find a top-order player, what about Mo? Can’t find a replacement spinner, how about the retired IPL guy? Don’t trust your top three, we have just the guy.

Moeen’s record looks like someone trying to work out his bowling, and a batter without elite talent, but also shook by a constant rotation of his role. So his numbers, outside the incredible counting stats, are really kind of blah. But Moeen’s impact on English cricket is far bigger than a bowling average of 37 and a batting average of 28. He has been the glue of England’s team. Applied to every break and hole, a bucket on one day, a sledgehammer afterwards and occasionally a blanket.

He’s not the greatest all-rounder on this list, or even anywhere close. But as a specialist batter who transitioned to a frontline Test bowler, before being requested to bat every spot from one to nine depending on what fire needed to be put out, it would be hard to say he is not one of the most all-roundery players on this list.

Moeen Ali has 3000 runs, 200 wickets and almost as many jobs within the England team.  He is not a great allrounder, but he is England’s greatest modern-day problem solver.