Moeen Ali eager to get anxious England playing with a smile again
Moeen Ali is planning to bring the fun factor back to England’s World Cup campaign after realising the defending champions have “lost the enjoyment” in India.
Moeen is set to return to the side for Thursday’s must-win match against Sri Lanka after being confined to drinks duties for the past three games, during which time things have gone from bad to worse for the 2019 winners.
Despite being left on the sidelines, Moeen remains the squad’s designated vice-captain and has watched and learned from crushing defeats to Afghanistan and South Africa that have left ninth-placed England with the narrowest of paths to the semi-finals.
His conclusions are clear: the team have become too anxious, too rigid and too fearful. The smiles have gone and the 36-year-old has made it his mission to bring them back at Bengaluru’s Chinnaswamy Stadium, once his IPL home with Royal Challengers Bangalore.
“When you sit out sometimes, you can see things that you don’t see when you’re playing,” he said.
“You can see from the outside that we’ve probably lost the enjoyment. We haven’t enjoyed it as a team as much, because we’ve been losing and we’re not playing that well.
“That spark is missing, that thing where they’re enjoying taking bowlers down, enjoying going out to bat.
“I think we’re probably taking it too seriously in certain ways. I think sometimes we can probably get a bit anxious. It’s almost having that carefree kind of attitude – ‘Who cares? It’s a game of cricket’.
“You’re going to make mistakes, you might as well make them doing what you’re good at. We’re making mistakes anyway, so let’s do it with a smile on your face.
“If I get my chance, I’m going to use all that intent that I have. Take it on. I’m going to take the situation out a lot of the time and just enjoy it as much as I can.”
Moeen has been stung by his extended absence from the XI, which sits at odds with his role as a key sounding board for captain Jos Buttler and his calming influence on the field has been a loss.
“Speaking to a few of the players, they’ve certainly said that they’re miss having me at mid-off or whatever,” said Moeen.
“I think I can try and hopefully bring a bit of help maybe for Jos, being at mid-off a lot of the time with the bowlers, because it’s not always that easy for a wicketkeeper to communicate.
“It’s hard for me to say. That’s the hardest bit…when Jos asks me what I think of the side and I don’t put myself in or if I do put myself in. You try and do what’s best for the team as much as you can.”
The man plotting England’s downfall this time around is Sri Lanka coach Chris Silverwood, a man who once thought he would be leading their title defence.
Silverwood was England’s fast bowling coach they won the tournament in 2019 and stepped into the top job soon after when he was chosen to succeed Trevor Bayliss.
But his reign came to an ignominious end when he was sacked after the 2021/22 Ashes debacle, with England subsequently opting to split the job between red and white-ball specialists.
England have already been bested by one of their own in India, with former batter Jonathan Trott guiding Afghanistan to a shock win in Delhi, and are aware of the extra layer of intrigue created by Silverwood’s appearance in the opposition dugout.
“I’m sure he’s got that motivation to do well in this game, definitely,” said Moeen.
“They’ve only won once, so they’ll want to get on a winning run as well and he’ll be thinking more about that and his own team.
“But I’m sure deep down, like everybody else, he’ll be trying to prove a point or whatever it is and that will motivate him a little bit more.
“He’s a good coach and a nice guy, and I enjoyed (working with) him. But he’s not the one going out to bat and bowl, it’s his team. He’ll be trying to get them ready.”
England radically altered the balance of their side against the Proteas, banishing their core of all-rounders in favour of their top six batters and five specialist bowlers.
A 229-run thrashing is likely to see that formula banished, with Moeen and Chris Woakes both pencilled in to return in place of the injured Reece Topley and Gus Atkinson. Sam Curran is also vying for one place with David Willey.
Topley’s injury replacement, Brydon Carse trained for the first time on Wednesday afternoon but will not be considered at this stage.
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