England captain Joe Root hopes Moeen Ali’s match-winning exploits of 25 wickets in four matches against South Africa are merely a hint of many more to come.
Moeen still prefers to be known as ‘a batsman who bowls a bit’, and Root and coach Trevor Bayliss have seen the value of indulging him with what the new captain refers to as “kidology”.
The results have been remarkable, including the off-spinner’s 10-wicket haul in the Investec series opener at Lord’s, a hat-trick to speed up the victory charge at The Oval last week and finally another five in the second innings at Old Trafford as England wrapped up a 3-1 success.
Moeen (five for 69) first broke a fourth-wicket stand of 123 between Hashim Amla (83) and South Africa captain Faf du Plessis (61) as the tourists’ improbable chase of a ground-record 380 faltered to 202 all out early on the fourth evening.
After he had kickstarted a collapse of seven for 39 to hasten England’s 177-run victory, Root reflected on the effective harnessing of Moeen’s talent.
“The kidology seems to have worked,” he said, reflecting on his successful maiden series in charge. He is definitely improving all the time.
“I said at the start of this series ‘it’s a great opportunity for guys in that bracket of 30-plus Test matches to stand up and become more senior’.
“He’s definitely taken that on and put in some brilliant performances. I hope it’s not just a one-off series, and he can go on now and do it again and again.”
Moeen, who also hit 252 runs at an average of 36, has 123 wickets after 41 Tests.
Root added: “It’s great to see Moeen, particularly in this series, step up and put in some unbelievable performances to win games for us.
“I hope that can be something that can be repeated on a number of occasions in the future. He has stood out, but everyone has contributed and made it a really good series.”
For Root, there was a mid-series learning curve when England suffered a heavy defeat in the second Test at Trent Bridge and came in for a welter of criticism.
“It’s been very enjoyable the majority of the time,” said the Yorkshireman.
“There was a week that wasn’t quite as much fun as the other three, but that is all part and parcel of being a captain. I learnt a lot throughout. It’s the start of something.”
For his opposite number Du Plessis, meanwhile, it is time for some straight talking – and he began the process by making it clear South Africa need to move on from the navel-gazing over whether his predecessor AB de Villiers will ever resume his Test career.
“We all know how good AB is, and we missed him (in this series),” he said. “But we’ve spent too much time talking about ‘when is AB going to come back?’.
“The hope of him coming back is something I think we need to move past … (and) we need to find someone else who can fulfil those roles.
“Obviously, you don’t just replace those players. If AB comes back it’s a huge bonus … but I don’t expect (him to).”