On Monday morning, England spinner Moeen Ali announced he would be stepping away from Test match cricket but would continue to play the game’s white-ball formats.
Some traditionalists might condemn Moeen for turning his back on the oldest and longest form in favour of so-called disco cricket, but onlookers should pause for thought before judging a player’s career choices.
Franchise cricket offers some a better way to play the game they love. People should respect that.
The Test arena has served Moeen well. The all-rounder has hit nearly 3,000 runs and taken close to 200 wickets in little more than 60 matches. He has featured throughout England’s batting order, from one through to nine, yet he was dropped from the central contract system in 2019.
Far from walking away because he has had a bad career, Moeen has been part of some of England’s greatest wins of recent years. In 2017, he scored a famous hat-trick against South Africa in the 100th Test match to take place at the Oval.
“Test cricket is amazing,” he said this week. “When you’re doing well, or when you have a good day, it is a better feeling than any other format of the game.
“Very rarely do you bowl poorly and get five wickets or play poorly and get a hundred.”
In the brilliant 3-2 home Ashes win in 2015, Ali scored 293 runs for England and took 12 wickets, the third highest for England in each case. His decision to retire from Test cricket is a proactive one based on knowing when to walk away.
In his two-year break from the five-day game between, which included a spell in which he asked to be excluded from selection, Birmingham-born Moeen found himself as a franchise cricketer, playing across the world in smaller, limited-over competitions.
During that time Moeen has featured for India’s Royal Challengers Bangalore and Chennai Super Kings, Pakistan’s Multan Sultans, South Africa’s Cape Town Blitz and, in The Hundred, Birmingham Phoenix.
It is possible to play in the Pakistan Super League between February and March, the Indian Premier League in its traditional April-May slot, England’s T20 Blast, in which Ali will continue playing for Worcestershire, the South African Super League between November and December and the Australian Big Bash from December into the following year.
Moeen has a young family to look after and Test series can often necessitate players staying away from home for months on end, depending on where those tours are. Franchise cricket offers players like Moeen the chance to pick and choose contracts.
An entire calendar year of contractual, franchise cricket is possible for a player who will no longer be available for Test cricket, and that’s before limited-over internationals are taken into account.
Moeen’s recent focus on white-ball cricket has seen him feature in the one-day World Cup, which England memorably won in 2019. The all-rounder has also been listed in the preliminary squad for next month’s T20 World Cup, where his current Indian Premier League form, and his time as a captain in the Hundred, will stand him in good stead.
Without Ben Stokes, Moeen could be a pivotal member of England’s T20 squad. Every successful squad has balance, and players like Moeen and Stokes provide the bridge between mavericks and more cautious cricketers.
The cricket calendar in England and Wales is congested, with many players switching from T20 to one-day and from international to county cricket. Moeen was given a go in the final Tests of this summer’s series with India but, relatively speaking, he is fresh.
Furthermore, there is little point in him taking up a spot in the Test squad, which is due to jet off to the Ashes in Australia following the World Cup, when he is not fully invested and there are other players who could take the opportunity.
Moeen Ali may or may not go down as one of England’s best all-rounders, whether that be in Test cricket or not. What is for certain, though, is that his decision to put his life first, and to listen to himself, could change the way players approach the sport.
Franchise cricket is here to stay, and Moeen cannot be blamed for chasing that dream.