By Philip Barker
Cricketer Moeen Ali was named today as the SJA’s international newcomer of the year at our British Sports Awards staged in London. The presentation to the Worcestershire and England all-rounder was made last month, before his departure to Sri Lanka for the one-day series, where in the build-up to next year’s World Cup, Ali has endorsed his gathering reputation.
“We as a team are going to be underdogs, one we’ve never won it, people are writing us off, people are giving us no chance,” Ali said, “so I think that is a very good position to be in.
“I still feel that enough teams will still be wary about playing against England. There is a lot more confidence than what people probably think , a lot of belief heading into the World Cup.”
England have never won the World Cup, whether at 50 or 60 overs. The last time the tournament was in Australia, in 1992, was also the last time England reached the final. That was when England promoted an all-rounder to open the innings. Back then, it was Ian Botham. Now Moeen Ali looks to have stepped into the pinch-hitting berth .
In the English summer of 2014, it was Moeen’s batting and bowling that helped to seal his SJA award – presented to someone competing in senior internationals for the first time.
His batting came to the fore first. A maiden and unbeaten century as part of a dogged rearguard action against Sri Lanka at Headingley was a fabulous effort against the odds. It only just failed to make sure of a heroic draw. Moeen’s competitive nature sees him dismiss the personal achievement, since it failed to deliver the team the desired outcome: “Scoring the hundred was nice, but we lost the game with two balls remaining and we lost the series with that, so it was very disappointing.”
England staged a strong recovery to win the second Test series of the summer against India, with Moeen at the heart of the turnaround. He took 6 for 67 as India crumbled at Southampton for England to level the series, and then 4 for 39 to turn the screw as England also won at Old Trafford.
“I think that the wickets were fantastic because I probably didn’t expect it and I don’t think a lot of people expected it. To win the series against India, and to contribute to winning the games are things that make me very,very proud.”
At 27, Moeen’s breakthrough at international level has been some time coming. Many had marked him out for greatness, even though he learned his cricket in humble surroundings of Moseley in the West Midlands. He has progressed through the age groups and England Lions before this year. His cousin Kabir Ali also played a Test and one-day international cricket a decade ago.
“My dad and my parents are very proud, so they’re very happy but my family have not realised how much of a big thing it is to be an international cricketer. I know it is big, but a lot of people see it as a major, major thing. I don’t think as a player that you realise how big it is.”
The success has come with an increased media spotlight.
“I try not to get too carried away about things and not to get too down about things. I try to maintain a level where I am pretty happy and comfortable and I don’t take things for granted. It’s been different obviously with all the media and the intensity of the games and stuff, but I’ve really thrived on it and really enjoyed it. It is something which I’ve always wanted to do, so I am very happy. I think you always imagine, always wish, or hope, or dream about it, but you never actually totally believe it until it is there, being from Moseley especially it has been a great road, it has been a long road, fantastic.”
Moeen seems philosophical about the booing he received from some spectators at Edgbaston during the T20 international. “I thought maybe I might get a little bit here and there, but the amount of boos I didn’t expect. I was surprised, but I was disappointed. It is not something I took too hard, never let it get to me. I think the disappointing thing was that it was in my home town and my family were there, my friends were there and we were looking forward to it. But we won the game and that was the most important thing. I think with the boos and stuff, hopefully in the future that will change and become cheers.”
Next year promises to be busy for Moeen and England. The World Cup, a Test series in the Caribbean in April and May, then two Tests against New Zealand at home before the centrepiece of the summer, an Ashes series against Australia.
“Speaking to a lot of players who have done it already, they absolutely love it. That is all they talk about so it is something to really look forward to,” said the 2014 SJA international newcomer of the year.
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UPCOMING SJA EVENTS
Mon Mar 23: SJA British Sports Journalism Awards, sponsored by BT Sport, at the Grand Connaught Rooms. Entry forms now available here
Mon Sep 14: SJA Autumn Golf Day, Muswell Hill Golf Club