Moeen Ali knew exactly when he must retire from test cricket. He had won a long-awaited recall to the England squad and he was involved in a thrilling match at Leeds. But in that Test and the following one at The Kia Oval, he found himself unable to fully concentrate.
It wasn’t that he had become indifferent. Far from it. But, after a couple of years playing short-format cricket, he found he no longer had what it took to flourish in Test cricket. He just couldn’t, as he puts it, “get in the zone” anymore.
“I felt like I was done, to be honest,” he says now. “I was hoping to play the last Test – there were a couple of milestones I wanted to pass – but once that game got called off, I realised that was it.
“Headingley was a great win but I just found I couldn’t concentrate. I’ve played rash shots before and had poor games before. But I just felt like I wasn’t in it. I’ve never felt that before. It’s not that I didn’t want to perform, I just didn’t feel like I was fully wholeheartedly into it.
“You try your best. I just found it really hard to get in the zone bowling, batting and in the field. And the more I tried, I just couldn’t do it. In the past when I came back into the team, it might take a bit of time but then I’m all in. But that series, I just couldn’t do it.
“The atmosphere felt really good. It was really nice to be back in the dressing room. But I just found cricketing-wise it was a bit of a struggle.”
The roots of the decision stretch back far further, though. Ever since Moeen lost his full central contract, at the end of the 2019 English summer, he started to feel detached from the Test squad. And without that contract to rely upon, he started to pursue franchise opportunities as a higher priority. He reflects now that it set him “on a different path” from the rest of the team.
Thought about the Ashes coming up
“I don’t think I lost interest in Test cricket but I think I lost the ability to do it as best as you can.
“There was part of me thinking about the Ashes this winter. I would have loved to go back and do well because last time I didn’t do so well. But I just felt like I couldn’t do it for that long. It’s such a long trip if I’m not ‘in it’. If I felt like I did in India when I was out there, then I would probably retire after one match. So it’s done.”
He admits he will miss it. In particular, he knows he will miss that sense of entertaining a full-house crowd.
Highlights of his test career
“The hat-trick at the Oval and the 2015 Ashes are probably the highlights for me. There’s been some really good moments but I think they’re the two that really stand out.
“I enjoyed being a crowd pleaser. When you hit a boundary, like a nice cover drive, and the crowd appreciate it… The buzz you get at Lord’s – that noise – is completely different to anywhere else in the world. And the noise at Edgbaston is also something I’ll definitely miss.
“But the best was when I batted at Old Trafford against South Africa in 2017 (he made an unbeaten 75 from 66 balls). I was just trying to play a lot of shots and it was coming off. The crowd was going mad and my son was old enough to understand the songs. After that day he really loved cricket.