Matt Maher: Under-valued Moeen Ali's been thrown under the bus – again

After a quite brilliant victory in last week’s first Test against India, things were far trickier second time around for England in Chennai.

England's Moeen Ali.
England's Moeen Ali.

The aftermath of defeat in the second Test has, meanwhile, been downright messy, thanks in large part to Joe Root’s clumsily-worded explanation for why Moeen Ali will not feature in the final two matches of the series.

Root describing Moeen as having ‘chosen’ to leave the tour suggested Worcestershire all-rounder had effectively quit on the team, when in reality it was always agreed he would be heading back to England after the second game, as part of the ECB’s plan to manage the workload of those players also taking part in next month’s limited overs series.

It would be wrong to criticise Root too much. The England skipper is far from the first player to pick the wrong word in the heat of a post-match press conference and quickly realised his error, apologising to Moeen in private.

More focus might be placed on Ed Smith, the chair of selectors, who earlier in the week is thought to have asked Moeen whether he would be willing to stay on for the two remaining Test matches, due to concerns over the form of Dom Bess.

In doing so, he effectively put a player in the impossible position of choosing between his family and his country, one which had not been asked of Jonny Bairstow, Mark Wood, Jos Buttler or others who have had their workloads managed this winter. If you were being very kind, you might describe it as questionable man-management. Where Moeen’s Test career is concerned, neither is it the first time.

Moeen will return to India next Friday, meaning he will spend at best 10 days back home in Birmingham with his young family, in the middle of what could potentially be a five-month long absence, should he be drafted for the Indian Premier League.

Factoring in the latter might jar with some England fans but there is a World T20 tournament to come later in the year.

The debate over whether one format should take priority over another is made even trickier than normal during a pandemic, when there is no option for families to visit bio-secure bubbles. Health and well-being of players, which must always come first, takes an even greater significance.

In the meantime, it feels fair to wonder what further damage may have been done to the Test career of the under-appreciated Moeen. Following his eight-wicket haul this week, he now has the best strike rate of any England spinner ever.

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