Moeen’s Test retirement signals end of an era – and gives England a big headache

Cricket is a sport obsessed with statistics.

There is probably not another sport on the planet that revolves around statistics quite as much as cricket does.

The greats all know how many runs they have scored, or how many wickets they have taken, and at what average. Because it is often their statistics that make them exactly that – great.

When future generations look back at the Test career of Moeen Ali, they will see an unremarkable set of statistics.

But this is no ordinary cricketer.

And the England hierarchy will now surely look back with a tinge of regret as arguably one of the best all-rounders they've ever produced calls time on his career in the longest format.

From 64 Tests, Moeen struck just under 3,000 runs at an average of 28 and change, scoring five hundreds along the way.

He took 195 scalps at an average of over 36, claiming five five-wicket hauls.

Another 86 runs and five wickets would have seen him become just the 15th Test cricketer in history to score 3,000 runs and take 200 wickets.

It is an absolutely fine career and one he can be exceptionally proud of. But not one befitting of his capability.

And that isn't solely down to Moeen.

His Test career has been disjointed; playing multiple matches at every position in the batting order from 1-9.

The fact 31 of his 111 Test innings came at No.8 is a head-scratcher. If you take Moeen's Test stats out of his first-class record, he averages over 40 with the bat.

He was identified pretty early as a bowler that would bat at the top level, rather than the other way round, such was England's desperation for a frontline spinner to succeed Graeme Swann.

And his retirement now signals the end of another era – and leaves his country in the exact same quandary.

The depreciation of his batting numbers would suggest it should be no surprise he has called it a day. In seven innings this year, following an absence from the side in 2020, he averages under 19. In nine innings in 2019, he averaged 10.

In fact, he hasn't averaged over 20 across a calendar year since 2017, and that came off the back of a glut of runs in 2016 where he clocked up four of his five hundreds at 46.86.

He averaged under 30 with the ball in 2018 and 2019, but this rose to 37.50 in 2021 – what would transpire to be his last year in the longest format.

Despite all this, he would have been a shoo-in for the Ashes in Australia this winter. He's currently away at the IPL and will remain in the UAE for the World T20 which gets underway next month.

Who should be England's spinner in the Ashes? Have your say below.

Moeen has been open and honest about the toll the rigours of Test cricket can take both physically and mentally over the years, and it's safe to assume the thought of another extended period away from home played a part in his decision.

“I’m 34 now and I want to play for as long as I can and I just want to enjoy my cricket," he said.

“Test cricket is amazing, when you’re having a good day it’s better than any other format by far, it’s more rewarding and you feel like you’ve really earned it.

“I will miss just walking out there with the lads, playing against best in the world with that feeling of nerves but also from a bowling point of view, knowing with my best ball I could get anyone out.

“I’ve enjoyed Test cricket but that intensity can be too much sometimes and I feel like I’ve done enough of it and I’m happy and content with how I’ve done.”

He added to the Guardian: "It’s been a good journey. But during the India series I felt like I was done, to be honest.

"I felt good, the atmosphere felt good, the dressing room etc, but cricketing-wise, I found it a struggle to get in the zone bowling and batting and in the field. And the more I tried, I just couldn’t do it.

“I was thinking about the Ashes and how I would love to have gone back and done well there. But it’s such a long trip if I’m not ‘in it’ and I think it’d be very, very difficult.

"And if I felt like I did against India when I was out there, then I would probably retire after one match. So it’s done.”

Moeen has always been admirably unequivocal in his assertion that cricket was of secondary importance to his happiness in other aspects of life.

He decided to take a break from Tests in 2019 and duly lost his central contract.

The Worcestershire man said at the time: "I do feel I need a break from the longer format but not a massive one. We will see what happens after the New Zealand series. This could be just what I need.

"It's disappointing to miss out on a central contract but I'm also pretty chilled about it. Cricket has never been about the money for me. I have always relied on my faith and believe that everything will work out fine."

While England will still have Moeen to call upon in white-ball cricket, his absence from the Test side – and perhaps more importantly squad – leaves a gaping hole.

So where do they turn now?

There appears little chance of going back to Adil Rashid who himself has prioritised the shorter forms of the game amid an ongoing shoulder problem.

Rashid, who has established himself as one of the world's premier white-ball spinners, recently signed a contract extension at Yorkshire but did so on the proviso he would not play first-class cricket.

Jack Leach has proved himself a steady operator while Dom Bess is still in the conversation.

Perhaps a more intriguing name in the mix is Lancashire's Matt Parkinson.

The 24-year-old has enjoyed an impressive start to his England career in ODIs and T20s and was one of the stars of the inaugural edition of The Hundred with the Manchester Originals.

He toured with the Test side in Sri Lanka and India but was not given a debut, instead becoming an expert in carrying drinks.

Moeen's absence also gives England an issue in balancing their side without talismanic all-rounder Ben Stokes.

Stokes is still on a hiatus from cricket in order to prioritise his mental health, and there is no obvious candidate to fill his role as someone who would be worth his spot with either bat or ball.

All this added to their continual woes at the top of the order and off the back of three successive series defeats against India – at home and away – and New Zealand means it's far from ideal preparation ahead of a seismic tour Down Under.

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