Moeen, 35, has amassed 67 Test caps, scoring 2914 runs and taking 195 wickets at an average of 36.66. His decision to step away from the format came with a view to focusing solely on limited-overs cricket, believing his race had been run in long-form cricket, partly because of issues with his spinning finger. His final Test, against India at the Oval in September 2021, was also his last first-class match.
Since then, he has helped England win the 2022 T20 World Cup and secured a second IPL title with Chennai Super Kings earlier this year. He has also returned to his home county, Warwickshire, from Worcestershire, and is currently captaining their T20 side, Birmingham Bears, in the Vitality Blast. He is also due to undertake media duties for the Ashes.
Replacing Leach would be no mean feat. The Somerset spinner has played all 13 Tests under Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum, with 45 dismissals – no Englishman has more – and sending down 515.1 overs, more than any other bowler in the world in that time.
Following the 10-wicket win over Ireland at Lord’s England will only meet up for training for the first Test at Edgbaston a week on Tuesday, after a team-bonding trip to Loch Lomond this weekend. As such, a decision on Leach’s replacement does not need to be made imminently.
Moeen does not have a great record against Australia, with 20 dismissals across 11 matches at an unflattering average of 64.65. That is a little better at home (47.86) with 15 wickets in six Tests, 12 of those coming in 2015 during England’s last successful Ashes campaign. He was dropped after the first Test of the 2019 series.
“I actually feel like there’s things I’ve been missing over the last couple of years,” he said. “I’ve just started to get it back again: a bit of rhythm in my action.
“When I was playing Test matches, I always felt like I was bowling well in white-ball cricket. You can kind of lose that rhythm, I guess. I think I’ve got to have that mindset of still bowling with that same energy as I would have done in Test matches.”
Speaking on Monday, Stuart Broad championed Moeen’s qualities, regarding him as an ideal fit for the current regime. “We know Mo is a phenomenal cricketer and someone who would fit into Stokes and Baz’s philosophy beautifully,” Broad told Sky Sports. “I don’t know if he’s being considered by the selectors or if he would consider red-ball cricket again. But he’s a mighty fine cricketer.”
“The like-for-like is Liam Dawson,” Alastair Cook, the former England captain, said on BBC Radio 5 Live. “He could do exactly the same as Jack Leach [but] he’s a better batsman… but it’s the conservative option, it’s the bloke who could hold an end up and won’t let anyone down. His bowling has got a lot better over the last few years, but that just seems very unlike Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum to take the safe option, the conservative option.
“I would probably go for Dawson for that role… but I think England will take the more aggressive. They’re trying to get Moeen. It’s a tough one for Mo because he won’t want to let Ben Stokes down. He’s really close with him. But it’s a big ask. When you know what Test cricket – and certainly an Ashes – can do to you mentally, you’ve got to really want to be out there in the battle.
“Obviously in the last few years, he kind of felt like he’d done his time in Test cricket. It’s whether a bit of time away has changed that. It’s easy saying yes over a phone call but actually, when the pressure gets on, do you really want to be there?”
Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo. Matt Roller is an assistant editor.