Moeen Ali, the England all-rounder, said selector Ed Smith’s comments that suggested he was not the team’s first-choice spinner had “spurred” him on to wrestle back his spot in the Test side.
Smith, after being named selector last year, dropped Ali for the home series against Pakistan after a poor run of form. Dom Bess was preferred over him, and during the course of that two-Test series and the first three Tests against India thereafter, Ali sat and waited.
Eventually, he got his chance in Southampton, for the fourth Test against India, and his nine wickets in the match was key to England winning the series. Since then, he has played seven further Tests, claiming 44 wickets in the eight matches in England, Sri Lanka and the Caribbean.
Looking back, Ali said the break during the Pakistan series worked out well. "It (Smith’s comments) hit me hard. It was disappointing. I felt like they were looking for someone else. But it spurred me on," he said.
“I did need that break at the time. Maybe if I'd been picked versus Pakistan I wouldn't have bowled well. But I came back against India fresh, scoring runs, and taking wickets and I felt at the top of my game. I still had the belief. To get back in the side and prove I can do the job is ... [pleasing].”
The 44 scalps ensured Ali now has a fine 177 wickets in 58 matches – it’s a return that has surprised the man himself, and it makes him feel like he belongs at the top level.
I feel like I belong. People might think I don't because they think I'm not a proper spinner.
“I've done better than I thought I ever would,” he said. “I must have done okay to get that many wickets. I remember reaching 50 and thinking that was a massive achievement. Someone said 'maybe 100?' and I thought no chance.
"But when you go past some of the greats, you think 'maybe I am a good spinner?' I feel like I belong. People might think I don't because they think I'm not a proper spinner. There will always be good days and bad days but I am improving. I think I can get into the side as a bowler now, even if I didn't bat.”
That said, Ali has scored 14 half-centuries and five hundreds in Tests so far. But his batting, he said, could still do with some improvement. “It needs working on,” he said. "But I feel set. I will stay at No.8 and I know it. I have got my head around that and it feels natural now.
“Being a bowler, I'm very happy with that. Even if I do well people may say I should move up. But I'm happy.”