On Tuesday morning Moeen Ali was dismissed for an entertaining 43, India wrapping up a 317 run win and tying the series at 1-1.
After the Test it was announced that Ali would be departing the touring squad to return home for the remainder of the test series.
Skipper Joe Root announced that the all-rounder ‘has chosen to go’. By doing so beginning a series of rather unfortunate events surrounding the reporting and framing of such a ‘decision’.
It has been widely reported that England are taking a fairly liberal and frankly very forward thinking approach to rotation in the coming weeks, with various players being rested and flying home for a stretch. This is to protect the mental health of certain all-format players who will be playing a huge amount of cricket if they were to stay throughout the Sri Lanka and India multi format tours.
So far, so good.
Jos Buttler featured in the first match of the series behind the stumps after keeping wicket for both tests in Sri Lanka, he has since returned home to spend time with his family with Ben Foakes stepping in to take the gloves.
Jonny Bairstow will also return for the remainder of the India series after missing the first two matches having played in Sri Lanka.
You will notice that neither of these players had the blame shifted onto their shoulders, the powers that be, not having used such a choice of words to describe the absence of Stokes and Archer for the Sri Lanka tour, nor for Buttler and Bairstow in this series.
The reason for Root’s phrasing can be excused insofar as he had been given the tough job of being shoved out in front of the cameras to answer questions after having just been humbled by India.
In fact it is technically true that Moeen ‘chose’ to return home, but this is poorly communicated since it was already the plan to rotate him out after this test, presumably after playing in Sri Lanka and the first test. Unfortunately this was not possible as Ali contracted Covid-19 upon arrival in Galle, missing the series.
So, let us not forget that this rotation policy is not to protect the physical health of the touring party but to protect the individuals mental health. The decent pay and nice hotels is far from a good substitute for spending months away from family during a pandemic and this must be remembered.
Ali was not rested because of the quantity of cricket he has played, but for the amount of time spent away from his young children and his wife.
So when he was reportedly approached and asked if he would stay on longer, he was put in a difficult position of choosing between his family and his team, a position he should never have been put in since the decision had previously been made for his return.
Root has since been honest about the mistake in what did initially look like the management hurling Moeen as far under the bus as they could reach, to explain that he made a mistake in suggesting that the decision had rested with Ali himself.
This scans with what we know of Root as both a person and a captain prior to this, Root is always unselfish and never shifts the blame so this seems to be more of a tired and poor phrasing from a weary captain.
What is less acceptable in the eyes of many observers – myself included – is the unfair nature of the question surrounding staying on tour. The powers that be would surely know the position this would put him in yet they still asked the question, thus throwing him firmly in the firing line.
I do not believe there was any malice involved but this was a bizarre, tone deaf and just unfair position to put someone in, someone who has suffered with a deadly disease whilst being on the other side of the planet from his loved ones. Asking him to skip the week he would be able to spend at home with his family was poor, poor management and has only been exacerbated by the reaction of pundits such as Michael Vaughan, someone who is not unfamiliar with unhelpful Twitter statements.
So, lastly, remember what Ali has given to English cricket and remember that he is a human being, just like the other players with whom you had no problem resting. Remember that if this is the last we see of Moeen Ali in England whites, it will be a tragedy. Most of all remember to be kind to someone who has never been anything less than honest, committed and at times transformational for English cricket.
By Michael Vince