England's first-choice spinner Moeen Ali insisted that his side are close to seizing control of the opening Investec Ashes Test after the all-rounder made a string of crucial contributions on day two at Cardiff yesterday.
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Resuming on 343-7, England advanced to 430 all out as Moeen added a brisk and purposeful 51 to his overnight score to finish on 77, having shared an eighth-wicket stand of 52 with seamer Stuart Broad.
The 28-year-old’s off-spin then claimed the prize scalps of key duo Steve Smith and skipper Michael Clarke. The tourists closed on 264-5 and were indebted to opener Chris Rogers underpinning their reply with 95.
“A couple of early wickets and, with the new ball around the corner, I think we’re in the driving seat,” said Moeen.
“We’re very happy. We were happy yesterday and then today, with the start we had with the bat and then to go out and get five wickets, it’s been a great effort.”
A key decision for the England selectors heading into the Ashes was whether to persevere with Moeen, who endured an abject tour of the Caribbean earlier this year, or opt for the leg-spin of Yorkshire’s Adil Rashid.
After his batting heroics, which saw the hosts add 87 for their last three wickets and chief antagonist Mitchell Johnson go wicketless despite conceding more than a hundred runs, Moeen went some way to answering his doubters. But it was England’s leading Test wicket-taker of all time James Anderson who claimed the first Australian wicket to fall, as skipper Alastair Cook grasped a sharp chance to dismiss pugnacious opener David Warner for 17.
Moeen was the man to break a 77-run partnership between Rogers and the prolific Smith, as the latter – the No1 ranked batsman in Test cricket – holed out to Cook at short mid-on.
Rogers had amassed a world record-equalling seventh consecutive half-century before edging behind off seamer Mark Wood, five short of his ton. Moeen then defeated Clarke in flight to remove the Australian captain for 38.
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A fourth 50-plus stand was ended when Ashes debutant Adam Voges picked out Anderson off the bowling of Durham’s Ben Stokes, while all-rounder Shane Watson will resume on 29.
Veteran opener Rogers maintained his impressive form in English conditions – the 37-year-old holds an average of 46 here – but admitted that Australia have conceded ground to their Ashes rivals so far.
“England might have the slight upper hand but we’ve got some good batting to come, so if we can get closer to England and put a bit more pressure back on them in the third innings, you never know,” he said. “Having to bat last on this pitch is a worry, reverse swing will come into it, so we’re going to have to play a really good game from here.”