Moeen Ali has dismissed concerns about Ben Stokes’s form with the bat with the T20 World Cup close. He believes England’s red-ball captain, who has yet to make it to double figures or to score at more than a run a ball during the warm-up series against Australia, contributes so much in the field that he deserves his place in the side anyway.
Stokes retired from ODI cricket in July citing the workload of playing all three formats and was named in the World Cup squad despite not playing a T20 international for more than 18 months. He has bowled two overs in each of England’s first two games against Australia – the last time he bowled his full allocation of four was against South Africa in February 2020 – but in the team’s most recent match, in Canberra on Wednesday, opened the bowling for the first time in his career. He also produced a jawdropping moment of fielding brilliance to turn a Mitchell Marsh shot from a six into a two.
“I think when the big games come he’ll score runs and that’s what you want from your gun players,” Moeen said. “Ben offers so much even if he’s not scoring runs – he opened the bowling, bowled really well and was brilliant in the field. That effort [to save four runs] was amazing.
“I don’t care if Ben doesn’t score any runs in the next couple of games because once the World Cup comes I’m sure he’ll be fine. Even if he doesn’t score runs he’s a great player to have in your team.”
Moeen, who captained the side during their recent 4-3 series win in Pakistan while Jos Buttler was recovering from injury, said the decision to open the bowling with Stokes demonstrated Buttler’s tactical flexibility. “That’s the good thing about Jos. Under Morgs [Eoin Morgan] everything was a lot more structured,” Moeen said. “He’s a great captain, but Jos is finding out what he can do with the side and [how to] make it a better team than it was.
“In the last two games since Jos has been back he’s captained exceptionally well in tough games. To defend in Australia twice already is great for him and the team. He’s very open-minded as a captain, he’s always thinking outside the box and that’s the great thing. It might not always come off but to become a better team we need that and he’s got a fantastic cricket brain.”
Moeen scored 44 off 27 in Wednesday’s game and put together a crucial 92-run partnership with Dawid Malan, who top-scored with 82 off 49. This has been a difficult week for Malan, who lost his full central contract on Tuesday, but he produced a timely reminder of his quality. “People don’t give him the credit because we have such explosive players but the guy’s special,” Moeen said.
“He’s been the world No 1 player and I feel people are on his back at times for no reason. He always scores runs and he scores them quickly. He’s a great player and he’s underestimated massively. I know people give him stick for starting slow but his strike-rate has always been excellent.”
England go into the final game of the series on Friday having won six of their past seven T20s against Australia, with their latest success all the sweeter for coming against a full-strength side, after five key players missed Sunday’s opening encounter in Perth. “It gives us a lot of confidence because they’ve played their strongest bowling attack,” Moeen said, “and to score 178 after being 54 for four is really good for the confidence.”
But the 35-year-old said there was no feeling of having an edge over the World Cup hosts and on Thursday the Australian bowler Josh Hazlewood said he was confident his side will raise their game when the teams meet again in a fortnight during the tournament.
“Once you get to a World Cup, where every game is so significant, we’re quite comfortable with where we’re at and producing a big game on the night,” Hazlewood said. “They’ve got the wood over us in the last few series. They’re a quality outfit and I still think they’re pretty close to the benchmark.”