moen Ali has been waiting for this tour. He has been dreaming about it ever since he felt he deserved his place in the England team. But he never thought he would become a captain when it finally happened. “It’s a great honor no matter who it’s up to,” Moeen says, “but to do it in Pakistan when the team comes back here is great for me personally, especially if I have family who migrated from here at the time. ”
His grandfather moved from Kashmir to England after the Second World War and his mother was born here. He played here as a child and again, more recently, in the Pakistan Super League.
“I’m someone who wants to play cricket in every country,” Moeen says, “and especially in Pakistan, after such a long time.” It’s been 17 years since England was last here. His decision to play in the PSL in 2020 was, he says, because he wanted to help play his part in “putting cricket back on the map in Pakistan”. He sees this tour as an extension of that. “I wanted to be a part of this. It’s something big when England come to Pakistan, more than any other country, England is the country that Pakistani fans love to see come here.”
His phone hasn’t stopped ringing since he arrived. He has an uncle who lives here and many friends. “I’ve had so many messages” – most asking if he can help dig up tickets – “that it’s a bit of a killer to me.” But he’s happy with the distraction. He is clearly frustrated with the tight security for the tour and the way he and the team have been cut off from the city in Karachi. He brought his wife and kids out when he played in the PSL and they spent time visiting friends and going to cafes. Between practices this week, he’s stuck in the team room, reading, chatting, playing cards.
He says the restrictions will determine his decision on whether or not to make himself available for Test matches here in December. He seemed excited when Brendon McCullum came up with the idea of plucking him earlier in the summer, but he seems to be backing down. “I’m not sure yet,” he says. “I want to see how this goes. I don’t like being stuck in a hotel for so long, so I’m going to see how I deal with this too.”
It was frustrating for him that England canceled their planned tour here last year, but he is now phlegmatic about it. “Of course there was still a bit of Covid then, so you don’t know what the restrictions were. At least everyone can come now. I’m a big believer that if things aren’t easy, if you have a little patience, they become easy.” That idea seems to be in his head. It comes up again when he talks about the state of the team for the T20 World Cup next month.
“It’s not my style to be desperate for something,” Moeen says. “It’s important that we don’t pressure ourselves and say, ‘We’re going to win a World Cup.’ We’ve been on such a good side for the past two or three years, but we’ve also missed it, which is about a weight of expectation. I think we should focus on one game. Let’s play our best cricket and not worry about the end result. That goes without saying. The 2019 World Cup was different. We were the favorites, but I don’t think we’re favorites now. I think we are one of the better sides, not favorites.”
England have brought here a strange squad. It was chosen with one eye on the World Cup and the other on attracting new players for the years to come. It consists of four players – Jos Buttler, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood and Reece Topley – who will miss Tuesday’s opening game as they get fit in time for the World Cup, and six more – Will Jacks, Tom Helm, Jordan Cox, Luke Wood, Ben Duckett and Olly Stone – who were not chosen for the tournament. Because of all that uncertainty, Moeen has taken on a different role. This is Buttler’s team, but it’s clear, listening to Moeen here, that he’s leading too, and not just in the toss.
He has some strong ideas about what went wrong this summer when the team lost series to South Africa and India. “This summer has been pretty lean for us. We didn’t play well at all.” He says they spent too much time talking about the way they did things when Eoin Morgan was captain. “’We used to do this’, ‘We used to do that’ or ‘The reason we were so good, was this.” We have to get rid of that now. It’s not easy for Jos to come in and take over from Eoin, but it’s Jos’s side now. I think this will be the starting point. You’re going to see a real change in the way the lace does things.”
They’ll still want to be “brave and aggressive, like we always have been,” but “there has to be more of a method for it too,” he says. “This summer we went out and tried to be really aggressive and we got kicked out.” It is most difficult for the more inexperienced players. “They’ve seen how we’ve played for the last four or five years and they think they should come in and do bang, bang, bang with the bat. But actually it doesn’t have to be. We have to get that balance right.”
Pakistan is in a similar position, with Shaheen Shah Afridi and Fakhar Zaman injured and three debutants in this format in their roster, including Shan Masood, who scored so many runs for Derbyshire this summer. “Both teams are probably at the same level at the moment. We have players that are missing, they are missing some, they also have a bit of a transition, even if they play well, I expect a very difficult series, a tight series. And an exciting series. It’s the nature of T20 that games come and go, but at least he’ll definitely remember these seven long after they’re over.