Ben Stokes usually didn’t lose his words when he texted his good friend Moeen Ali and asked him to answer an emergency call to become England spinner Ashes.
‘He just texted me with a word and a question mark – ‘Ashes?’ said Moeen, returning with the red ball in hand during Edgbaston’s first training session in England yesterday. “I hadn’t heard the Leachy news at the time, so I thought he was taking the mic. I just replied ‘LOL’.
From the briefest of exchanges came the most unexpected of calls, with Moeen coming out of red ball retirement he insisted last winter was permanent to replace injured Jack Leach and step straight into the Ashes fray on Friday .
Moeen was his usual honest and self-deprecating here yesterday, admitting he took his time accepting the call after talks with Stokes, coach Brendon McCullum and general manager Rob Key. But in the end, it was an offer he just couldn’t refuse.
Specifically, it was an offer he couldn’t refuse from Stokes, the captain who has done so much to transform the England squad with a style of cricket that could have been made for a disillusioned all-round striker who lost against Test cricket. two years ago.
England added Moeen Ali to their squad for the first two Ashes Tests against Australia
A shortage of available bowlers means England have turned to the 35-year-old
“Probably not,” Moeen said when asked if he would have come out of the Test wasteland for a captain other than Stokes. “I spent a lot of time with Stokesey at the IPL (they were both in Chennai) talking to him and he’s just different.
“His mindset is so different from other captains I’ve had before. I’m not saying they were bad but everything is so positive now. It’s not just the results but the way they play. He’s the kind of guy you want to play for.
And England want Moeen, who turns 36 on Sunday, to play for them. It seemed unlikely when Leach was kicked out of the Ashes roster with a stress fracture in his back, not least because Moeen was so definitive in turning down the chance to play in Pakistan.
But as soon as this one-word text was sent by Stokes, it made perfect sense. England didn’t want to risk Rehan Ahmed at such an early stage in his career and still viewed Will Jacks as a destructive batsman who plays a bit. Liam Dawson, meanwhile, was just a tad too conservative for modern England tastes.
Which pretty much left Moeen alone, a sad reflection on the lack of spin bowling options in County cricket, but a selection no one in the game can rightly quibble with. Moeen remains a class act and, above all, a man born to play Bazball.
Even Prime Minister Rishi Sunak urged Moeen to respond to England’s SOS – ‘it made no difference really because I had already made up my mind by then’, he said – and 10 surreal days for the local boy will continue today with a visit to Windsor Castle to accept his OBE. Then the even bigger occasion of Ash Friday on his home ground.
“I must have thought about it, but it was the ashes,” said Moeen, when asked what made this approach different from his refusal to face Pakistan last winter. “It’s such a great series and the cricket the guys are playing is so exciting. It’s an era in which I want to play. I think I would have done a lot better if it had been like that when I first played test cricket.
The Ashes remain the pinnacle for a two-time white-ball World Cup winner who seemed to be closing in on a franchise future and was approached to play in the new American League T20 later this summer before England tipped him off. say he couldn’t go.
England opted for Moeen over spinners Rehan Ahmed (above), Will Jacks and Liam Dawson
The versatile wicket player expects to be tackled by Aussie batters during the series
“The 2015 Ashes was a series that no one seems to remember for some reason, but it was huge for me,” Moeen said. “It was one of the highlights of my career, right up there with the World Cups.
“It’s because the Ashes are not easy, as we know. So many good players haven’t won an Ashes series. But I’m looking forward to winning number two now. This series is going to be huge.
Moeen looks sure to play and will be supported both to attack with his hard breaks which can be costly and with the bat, strengthening the eight-tail.
“Stokesey just said to me ‘this should be perfect for the way you play,'” Moeen said. “There are no question marks over the shots you play. So I can play some more daring ones! Even with the ball, I can be more aggressive. I know I will go for a run, but Stokesey also knows there will be box office deliveries, which is really important to him.
There was a boost for England yesterday when the captain went through another bowling stint on the Edgbaston outfield and looks increasingly likely to at least play a part in that test with the ball.
Ali has revealed the vital role Ben Stokes (pictured) played in his return to Test cricket
That leaves England with a big call to make and must choose between Stuart Broad and Mark Wood for the final bowling spot, with Jimmy Anderson and Ollie Robinson both looking to recover from minor injuries yesterday.
Broad would bring his big game temperament and the chance to make a first Ashes statement against the man he had in his pocket in 2019 in David Warner while Wood provides that all-important extra pace, especially against Travis Head who seems sensitive to the short and quick stuff. It’s a big call for England and not an easy one.
One man they are certainly happy to have back in their ranks is Moeen, at least for the first two Tests and, depending on how things go at Edgbaston and Lord’s, potentially the whole of this highly anticipated series. . “I’m the kind of guy who goes with the flow,” he added. “Let’s play these two games and see what happens.
It is unlikely to be dull.