“The favourites tag is good, but it doesn’t mean anything.”
Moeen Ali is a cool, calm customer. His interviews are honest with a touch of reality. He just says what it is and there’s certainly no bravado – in fact, the opposite.
Mo was our prime interview ahead of the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup and it just so happened he was walking the corridors of Edgbaston before flying out to India on Wednesday. Perfect.
So can England go unbeaten and win the World Cup for a second time in a row?
“The favourites tag is good, but it doesn’t mean anything until you’re there playing and performing,” smiled Mo. “Our job is to entertain by playing good cricket and we know that if we do that, we beat most teams. I think people will be looking at us as the most dangerous side out there, but we’re very relaxed.
“This has been something I’ve been looking forward to since we won it in 2019 and as a team, we’re desperate to defend the trophy. We know it’s going to be a challenge and hard work, but that’s something we thrive off.”
It all sounds very simple.
England face India (Saturday) and Bangladesh (Tuesday) in warm-up fixtures, before all eyes turn to the big show at Ahmedabad on Thursday 5 October (9.30 am BST).
The Three Lions face New Zealand, dubbed cricket’s good guys, in a replay of the final four years ago and for the next week, you probably won’t get ‘by the barest of margins’ out of your head, or even dreams.
Nevertheless, that plot line is just a small part of a long performance. With ten teams, each side will play each other once, and after the nine games, the top four head to a semi-final.
Like 2019, you have to beat the best to become the best. Just how Moeen likes it.
“I’m sure they’ll want to get one over us, but they’re always special games,” Mo said when asked specifically about the Black Caps. “New Zealand is a fantastic side, especially in World Cups where they’re especially dangerous, so we’re going to have to be on our A-game to beat them.
“Playing against all the sides is unique and it’s probably the best way to play a World Cup because you play everyone and don’t avoid certain teams. If you win the World Cup it means a lot more, because it will feel like you’ve beaten everybody.”
The odds are tight and with India hosts, they are the bookies’ favourites. Not only have they just won the Asia Cup, but they’re top of the ODI rankings. Interestingly, England are fifth.
But as well as having the number one ODI-ranked bowler in the world – Mohammed Siraj – and the second-ranked batter in Shubman Gill, they’ll also have packed stadiums and a population of 1.4 billion cheering them on.
“We’re quite used to it as a lot of us play in the IPL, where the atmosphere is incredible to be a part of,” added the all-rounder. “When you’re growing up as a young cricketer that’s something you want to experience and entertain in front of because the Indian fans truly love cricket.”
Those younger days may be getting further away, but Mo is still hungry to succeed. Now 36, his career continues to showcase his phenomenal talent.
During the Ashes, Mo became the 16th player and fourth Englishman to pass 3,000 runs and 200 wickets. In T20 internationals, he has over 1,110 runs and 43 wickets. In this format, 2,260 (three centuries) and 106 wickets.
Father Time may be approaching, but it’s not stopping him just yet. Mo is still enjoying his cricket and keeping those aspiring youngsters at bay.
“Picking 15 out of 30 top players is difficult, but now that’s done the focus is around playing well,” added the left-handed batter. “It’s been tough for a while and someone like Sam Hain has been banging runs for years now. It’s been hard work, but he’s finally played his debut game and done really well. It shows the depth and other players have yet to play for England, but I’m sure they will.
“Players, such as myself, are coming to the back end of their careers and hopefully the next generation is ready to follow on and play.
“To be honest, I’m feeling good and pretty relaxed. My aim is just to perform, win and do what we do. We have our roles and the best teams know their roles and that comfortably allows the players to have the freedom to showcase their skills, because as an individual you just need to win one or two games for the team. We can’t do well every game, but the ones you do, you know you’ll win the game.”
There is certainly confidence in his voice, but anything can happen, even by ‘the barest of margins’.
England will travel to India to look to retain and rest before another exciting summer of cricket. Jos Buttler’s side, including hopefully Mo and Chris Woakes, will return to Edgbaston on Saturday 25 May for an IT20 that precludes the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup.
Another fantastic opportunity and one that the local Brummie doesn’t want to miss.
“It’s always fantastic to play Pakistan or India in England and particularly Birmingham,” concluded Mo. “There’s a huge fanbase here and these are the games as a cricketer that you dream of playing. I just hope I’m fit, ready and playing well because I don’t want to miss it.
“When you’re facing the quality of their bowlers that’s what you’ve been training all your life. They’re the kind of bowlers you want to face all the time and do well against. It’s always exciting and there’s pressure on the bowlers too and that’s what you think about when you’re out there.”
Only 1,000 tickets left for Day Three
Following record demand, only 1,000 tickets now remain for Day Three of the Men’s Test against West Indies.
General admission tickets for the first two days are already sold out, with limited now left for the third day. And fans can still get tickets at Early Bird prices if purchased before 19 December deadline.