Moeen Ali 'takes break' from Test cricket as he misses out on full ECB contract
Moeen Ali will miss England's two Tests in New Zealand in November, and may also be omitted from the red-ball leg of the South Africa tour in December and January, after requesting a break from Test cricket in the wake of a gruelling English season.
The news came as Moeen was omitted from England's list of centrally contracted Test players for the 12 months to September 2020, which was announced on Friday at Lord's by England's director of cricket, Ashley Giles.
Although he retains his white-ball contract, and will be a central part of England's plans for the World T20 in Australia next year, this was the first time since 2014-15, the year of his England debut, that Moeen had been overlooked for the top tier of ECB contracts - a run that reflects the amount of international cricket, 186 matches in all formats, that he had been playing in the preceding five years.
"It's just to get away from it a little bit. I feel like I want to enjoy my batting and this will give me a bit of a break," Moeen told ESPNcricinfo on the eve of T20 Finals Day at Edgbaston, where he is hoping to captain Worcestershire to back-to-back titles in the Vitality Blast.
"I want to spend some time with the family. I've been playing for England for five years and it's been quite tough. The intensity is obviously higher in Test cricket so this is just to give me a break and then we will see what happens after that.
"I'm not ruling out playing Test cricket in the future. I've had long chats and thought about it quite a lot. I just want to give myself a bit of time to refresh my batteries and see where it goes after that."
Speaking at Lord's, Giles was equally keen to stress that Moeen's decision did not spell the end of his 60-Test career - a period in which he has claimed 181 wickets, second only to Graeme Swann among English spinners this century.
However, Giles did indicate that Test retirement had been discussed during their conversations, as Moeen came to terms with a disappointing summer in which he was dropped after England's defeat in the first Ashes Test at Edgbaston, having already lost his starting berth in the World Cup-winning team.
"For all the guys, not just Moeen, it's been a really challenging summer," Giles said. "A World Cup and an Ashes back-to-back has had a massive effect on many of these guys psychologically, as much as physically. And some of those guys are still carrying [those issues], one of them being Moeen.
"His experience in the first [Ashes] Test wasn't a great one, but that's cricket. He's has been a great servant for his team. And that's why I encouraged him to leave that option open to come back. He might just need to go away and freshen up. But he's been a really good servant for this team. And he's still relatively young."
England are due to tour Sri Lanka for two Tests in March and April, a country where Moeen last year claimed 18 wickets at 24.50 as part of a successful three-spinner attack, and that could, in theory, be an obvious time for him to return to the fray.
However, with Jack Leach established as England's first-choice spinner and with a new coach likely to be in place by that date, Moeen's decision to step back from Test cricket comes with obvious risk - especially at a time when England have signalled their intention to redouble their focus on the format after a four-year cycle in which it played second fiddle to the needs of the white-ball squad.
"The two Tests in New Zealand are not part of the World Test Championship, but actually they form a really important part of the build-up process to South Africa, which is a series that we've got to go and win," said Giles. "And New Zealand are a strong team. We are not going there lightly, so we've got to be ready."
A further consideration for Moeen is that the Sri Lanka tour falls close to the start of the 2020 IPL, a tournament for which he has a lucrative contract with Royal Challengers Bangalore. While Giles insisted that Moeen's decision would not be solely driven by any desire to play a full part in RCB's campaign, he was adamant that the rewards of the tournament were not merely financial - as shown by the big-game experience that many of England's 50-over stars were able to lean upon in key moments of the World Cup.
"It is going to be very difficult for us to stop players going [to the IPL] without risking losing them," Giles said. "We've got to accept that and manage our players outside that. They have to be reasonable in accepting we are making space for them, because their main duty is to represent England. But that window [in the schedule] is left open for them for a reason."
Giles acknowledged, too, that the incredible demands placed on England's cricketers in the summer to end all summers were unsustainable, and that the board had a duty of care towards Moeen, and others who have struggled with the team's multiple ambitions.
"These are extraordinary circumstances, and some players deal with it better than others," he said. "Some players are in different cycles of their own game, and where they are in terms of confidence - look at where [Ben] Stokes has been all summer compared to Moeen - but we're going to support these guys to come back into the side. Our whole system has got to be better at picking them up and making sure that they're better prepared for the rigours."
He conceded, too, that England's achievement in drawing the Ashes with a memorable victory in the fifth Test at The Oval was a credit to the character of a team that "really ran through the line" for themselves and for their captain, Joe Root.
"The players all suffered in different ways really," said Giles. "But I have to say great credit to every one of them. It would have been easy to roll over and just give in. But they saw it right through, and if you started the summer and offered us a World Cup win and a drawn Ashes series, we probably would have taken it.
"'Neglected' might be a strong word, but for the last four years, we know we focused primarily on white-ball cricket, and Joe has done a great job in challenging circumstances. And when a team runs through the line like they did for him this year, I think that's great credit to him.
"I said to Joe before Headingley, and this wasn't a case of taking any eyes off the ball, that if we won this series, it would have been a fantastic effort. But it would have been more on pure performance than anything else."
Additional reporting by Paul Edwards.