Home » Cricket, Sports » Moeen ton gives England opening win
Feb
23

moeen-ali-tonThe timely appearance of the Auld Enemy proved to be a World-Cup blessing for England. Scotland rarely pass muster these days even in their most culturally-ingrained team sports of football and rugby union and, as far as cricket is concerned, their fortunes have yet to cause much impassioned debate on Sauchiehall Street. England, easy victors by 119 runs, were grateful for that as they began to restore their World Cup reputation.

For all the belligerent pre-match cries of Paul Collingwood, a proud Englishman finding himself reading from the Braveheart script, Scotland have never beaten a Full Member nation in a one-day international. Repelled by Moeen Ali’s confident century, 128 from 107 balls, they managed little more than a skirmish in Christchurch, although all remains far from right for England because while Moeen oiled the England innings, there was the sound of clanking and grinding all around him.

There is no more modest bowling attack in this World Cup than Scotland’s and the immediate consequence for England was a first-wicket record in World Cups: 172 in 30.1 overs by Moeen and Ian Bell, surpassing the 158 gathered by Dennis Amiss and Barry Wood against East Africa at Edgbaston in the first World Cup in 1975. England’s approach, their critics have been sniping, has not changed all that much in the intervening 40 years.

Expectations that they might pass 350-plus for only the third time in ODIs departed with Moeen. In the end, England’s captain Eoin Morgan would be grateful for lesser mercies: a total beyond 300, the fact they batted their full quota of overs, a semblance of form for himself – 46 until he fell in the final over, one of four wickets for Josh Davey – which ensured those minimum targets were met.

As for England’s bowling, it did what it had to do; dismissing Scotland within 42.2 overs the bowlers began to remedy what had been the worst net run rate in the group in a manner the batsmen, Moeen apart, had found beyond them. Kyle Coetzer drove vigorously in making 71 before Moeen again underlined his all-round attributes by having him caught at long-on – Coetzer coming down the pitch to loft the ball on the full. But the dangerous Calum MacLeod fell making room to James Anderson’s outswinger and the captain Preston Mommsen, so productive in the qualifiers, fell on the sweep to Joe Root just as he was threatening to lead a second wave.

England will seek value in Steven Finn’s display, coming so soon after his two overs were savaged for 49 by Brendon McCullum in Wellington. He settled his nerves with three cheap wickets, including the important one of Matt Machan, caught at the wicket. He upped his speeds as the day wore on, but while his pace remains so irregular – more, it seems, by accident than design – he will not altogether convince.

The World Cup had briefly turned its attention to a very British rivalry on a very British sort of day: England v Scotland under initially grouchy Hagley Park skies, with the discordant chants of the Barmy Army combated by the screech of the pipes and a brandished flag bearing the word “freedom”, a vestige of Scotland’s failed independence referendum. For the tournament proper, it all seemed a bit inconsequential, but for England, bereft of form and reputation, a bit of parochialism was just what they needed.

If Moeen was England’s assailant, moving fluently to his second ODI hundred, Bell pottered around for 54 from 85 balls, a half-century that looked as if it was the product of a meetings culture: Bell’s “strategic staircase” had the need for responsibility bullet pointed on every step.

After the heavy defeats suffered against Australia and New Zealand, by 111 runs and eight wicket respectively, Bell’s innings put short-term stability above long-term needs – the imperative that England’s batting order must stamp its mark on the tournament. He was restrained throughout, disappointed to drive the first ball of Richie Berrington’s second spell to short extra just as he imagined he might accelerate.

When England did try to stamp their mark, the stamp was hopelessly underweight and the innings was lost somewhere in the sorting office. Moeen, Gary Ballance and Root fell in the space of 10 balls and, at 203 for 4 in the 37th over and England committed to a comparatively reserved finale on a slowing surface, the sound of the pipes had a more unnerving feel.

The failure could count most heavily for Ballance, whose introduction at No. 3 on the eve of the tournament has not been productive, his latest demise coming when he chopped Alasdair Evans on to his stumps, seeking to run the ball and suffering for a lack of pace.

From England’s perspective, at least there was Moeen. He was characteristically unafraid to go aerial over the off side – almost suffering for the habit on 7 when he drove Davey to Freddie Coleman in the covers on the half volley – and when Scotland’s bowlers did test him against the short ball, at barely 130kph it was inferior stuff and Moeen pulled with ease. He had an ambition that England will hope proves contagious.

Scotland’s attack was make-do. It comprised three seamers – Evans replaced the left-armer Rob Taylor who had been expensive against New Zealand – a fifth bowler fiddled through as best they might, and the redoubtable rotundity of Majid Haq, who turned in 10 overs of offspin for 51 runs and took the prize wicket of Moeen who dragged him to deep midwicket.

Haq is Scotland’s leading wicket-taker in one-day cricket: a genial purveyor of lobs. He has no like in international cricket, bowling as slowly as 65kph (40mph), inviting an insecure batsman to run through an infinite list of potential dismissals while the ball is still in the air and ensuring that, by the time it arrives, all sense of life’s purpose has been lost. He would be regarded as a confidence-trickster on the village green.

It was Davey who finished with four wickets. Root was unpinned by a decent delivery; he beat James Taylor’s advance with a full, wide one, enabling Matthew Cross to pull off a neat stumping; and added Morgan and Chris Woakes in the final over to finish with four wickets.

It was a commendable effort from a bowler who failed to make the grade at Middlesex and is making a second attempt at county level with Somerset. He had bowled nine of Scotland’s 15 wides, but by the end he had emphatically put those nerves behind him.

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