England must manage Moeen Ali properly to protect his development
By Andy Wilson of The Guardian
It sounds ridiculous for a team who have just ended a wretched run of 10 Tests without a win, but England might now be facing a fresh problem – much more welcome, but with its own headaches nonetheless – of controlling hyperbole, and managing expectations.
“I’m hoping the public are getting excited about some new faces and the development of a new team,” he says at a refreshingly feelgood Ageas Bowl on Thursday afternoon. “But that might mean it is a bit up and down.” That is why he was especially wary of accepting invitations to crown Moeen Ali as the answer to England’s search for a spin successor to Graeme Swann. Of all the new faces – Jos Butler sweeping and ‘keeping, Chris Jordan slip-catching and grinning, and Ben Stokes hopefully to return to swashbuckling – it is Moeen who could be the most significant, both as a cricketer but also as England’s first British Asian superstar.
But Moores, England, and Moeen recognise the dangers of getting too excited too early. He has played five Tests, even if they have included two major and unforgettable contributions – his unbeaten century against Sri Lanka at Headingley, and now his six-for against India in Hampshire – as well as several other endearing cameos.
Steven Sylvester, a former first-class cricketer who now works with his former county Middlesex as a psychologist and has also teamed up with Moeen since being taken on by Worcestershire last year, struggles to contain his excitement about the 27-year-old. “Normally I keep all my stuff kind of under the radar,” he says. “But I think now’s the time to be a bit more open about what this chap is all about.
“It isn’t just about a different religion and whatever, but his whole approach. Just to be open, happy, smiling, and having good standards in the high-octane world of professional sport. I find it absolutely fascinating as a psychologist, I’m thinking ‘Is it for real?’ I don’t think there’s enough being made of his ambassadorial role in the game.”
To which Moores, and England, would say: “Whoa there.” Moeen has already had a couple of potentially bruising experiences in the media, the first having answered questions about his religion with refreshing openness before his debut at Lord’s, and then this week having worn wristbands showing his support for his fellow Muslims suffering in Gaza without first seeking permission from the management.
He has dealt with them both admirably. “I’ve worked with four world champions, and in professional football, golf, snooker and cricket – hard-edged sports,” adds Sylvester. “I have never seen a world-class performer be so phlegmatic with negative judgment and criticism as this young man.”
Perhaps England also deserve a little credit, too, for encouraging their players to deal more openly with the media, and for recognising the strength of Moeen’s feelings about Gaza. “Mo has his own personality,” adds Moores. “I love people who have their own brain and style.”
But he also stressed that Moeen is “a level-headed bloke” and “a sensible lad”. England know they have a potential superstar on their hands, who could be the best thing to happen to English cricket for decades. But far better to let him develop steadily, rather than thrusting him forward too soon