Worcestershire County Cricket Club, post the 6th of May 1988, has been a club completely dominated by the performance and legacy of one man: Graeme Hick. On that day, the 21 year old Zimbabwean made history and inadvertently shaped that of the club’s future. For a further 20 years, Hick strode over the county scene a giant; in-between stuttering stints at Test level he broke most batting records and finished his career with over 64,372 runs. Only Graham Gooch has scored more. No other man to have played professional cricket has topped him.
When he walked away from the game in 2008, Worcestershire fans could no longer rely on the hulking figure of Hick to grind out 1,000 runs season-by-season. A black hole like void had opened.
In 2007, Birmingham-born Moeen Ali switched from Warwickshire to nearby Worcestershire. Moeen Ali, like Hick, knew great success from a young age: captain of the England Under-19’s semi-final run in the 2006 World Cup; two time winner of the Denis Compton award (for most promising young player of each county) and possessor of a 56 ball century in a youth Test against Sri Lanka.
Though it would be completely illogical to expect any player to fill a Hick shaped hole, Worcestershire hoped that in Moeen Ali, they had a man capable of scoring big consistently and leading a batting line up.
Moeen Ali is a staggering sight when he is in full flow. He decorates each well-timed shot with a delightful flourish, bat face pock marked with the by-product of his craft. The bat is held high, his left elbow at shoulder height; the elegance of his shot making is reminiscent of VVS Laxman when at his best: cultured in attack and defence, an element of timeless serenity and classical purism when at the crease and scoring runs. Anyone who has seen a Moeen 78 will testify: the man is a real talent.
Moeen Ali’s problem is his love of the beautiful 78.
An average of just under 35 in First-Class cricket, and short of 30 in List A, displays a tendency towards inconsistency that is the direct antithesis of Hick’s feats. For a man who plies his trade in the top order, eight years’ worth of professional cricket provides averages that are fair in representing a player’s run scoring achievements: Moeen Ali, thus far, has disappointed and not fulfilled his considerable potential.
Yesterday, it was announced on Worcestershire’s website that Moeen Ali had signed a new five year contract on top of his current one. At the age of 25, the ship has not sailed. An encouraging start to the First-Class season has seen him score three half centuries from his first six innings; he needs to kick on and score 1,000 runs this season (something he has only done once, in 2010). Should he have three seasons of high scoring and century making, the England selectors could well turn their eyes to New Road.
In 2016, Ian Bell will be 34, Kevin Pietersen 36 and Jonathan Trott 35; no one can guess who will crop up between now and then, or the form of certain players, but should Moeen Ali raise his game to a new level and temper his bouts of ‘cross-batted-itous’ he will have to be looked at. The man to come in at first drop has always been a difficult position to fill; there aren’t too many England qualified number threes flooding the scene right now as it is. It could be a position tailor made for a 29 year old Moeen Ali, matured and hardened by a decade of county cricket.
And wouldn’t it be lovely to see an English batsman actually PLAY spin bowling, with an abundance of wristy play and jogs down the wicket? Wouldn’t it be fantastic to see that beard on television adverts ahead of an Ashes series?