All-rounder Moeen Ali presumed Ben Stokes was joking when he received a hopeful message from the England captain, but is now set to face arch-rivals Australia in the Ashes.
Moeen has not played a Test for England since announcing his retirement from the format following a loss to India at The Oval in September 2021.
But a one-word message from skipper Stokes has put the all-rounder on the path to an unlikely return to the Test squad in place of the injured Jack Leach.
"'Stokesy' messaged me with a question mark, ‘Ashes?'," Moeen revealed.
"I didn't hear the news of ‘Leachy’ at the time, and I just went 'LOL', thinking he's taking the mick.”
The brief exchange was enough to kickstart the 35-year-old’s late call-up to the England squad to take on Australia after spinner Leach was ruled out of the Ashes series due to a back injury.
Moeen has continued to play for England as a white-ball specialist since his retirement from Tests, and was part of the team that won the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup 2022.
The off-spinner and useful lower-order batter had previously been more than capable in the red-ball format across 64 Tests, with 2914 runs at an average of 28.29 including five tons, and 195 wickets coming at an average of 36.66.
"When I retired I was done and that was the end of playing,” Moeen said.
“But the unfortunate injury to Leachy meant I got a message and a call from ‘Stokesy’ and ‘Baz’ (Brendon McCullum).
"I don't look at it like a Test career. It is a free hit. I'm not playing for my spot, there is no pressure really. There is pressure of the occasion and the game, but I spoke to Baz and he said he's not bothered about how I perform.”
Leach has been a crucial part of the England outfit and their 11 victories in their past 13 Tests, as he ties up one end to allow the likes of top-10 ranked bowlers James Anderson, Ollie Robinson and Stuart Broad to attack more from the other.
But Moeen has had limited success against Australia with the red ball, with 20 wickets in 11 Tests coming at an average of 64.65 as the rivals have targeted the spinner to score at 3.85 runs an over.
The veteran knows what to expect from Australia this time, but is equally clear on his role if selected in any of the five Ashes Tests that begin on June 16.
"I am sure they know what they will get out of me, it's not going to be a lot of maidens," Moeen said.
"I've never been able to hold an end up. When I have, it is when I have been taking wickets. That's the only time I have been able to build any pressure. Ben and Baz know that.
"I know I go for runs but he knows there are also some wicket-taking deliveries in between, which is all he cares about."
The Ashes begins on June 16 with the first Test at Edgbaston.
The Ashes fixtures
First Test: June 16 - June 20, Edgbaston
Second Test: June 28 - July 2, Lord’s
Third Test: July 6 - July 10, Headingley
Fourth Test: July 19 - July 23, Old Trafford
Fifth Test: July 27 - July 31, The Oval