Moeen: ‘If we’re going out, we’re going out with a bang’

England

England have lost their spark and sense of enjoyment at the World Cup, and would rather go out of the tournament “with a bang” than with a whimper. That is the view of their vice-captain, Moeen Ali, who looks set to make his second appearance of the tournament against Sri Lanka in Bangalore on Thursday.

Moeen played in England’s nine-wicket defeat to New Zealand in Ahmedabad on the opening night of the tournament but has not featured since. Being dropped has given him perspective on where his team-mates have fallen short, particularly in defeats to Afghanistan and South Africa which mean they probably need to win all five of their remaining group games in order to reach the semi-finals.

“Our intent hasn’t been there,” Moeen said. “When you see it from the outside, it’s just like that spark is missing; that thing is missing where they’re enjoying taking bowlers down and enjoying going out to bat. The situations haven’t always been easy but still: I feel like it’s a game of cricket, at the end of the day, and I think we’re probably taking it too seriously in certain ways.

“It’s almost having that carefree kind of attitude: who cares? It’s a game of cricket. If you’re going to make mistakes, you might as well make them doing what you’re good at doing. And we’re making mistakes anyway, so do it with a smile on your face… I think we as a group have been overthinking too much.”

In both the 2019 World Cup and the 2022 T20 World Cup, early group-stage defeats left England with no margin for error in their last four games. On both occasions, they rediscovered their attacking batting style after being confronted with the prospect of elimination. “We’ve been in this position before – probably not to this degree – but we know everything is a must-win,” Moeen said.

“There’s no point playing the way we’re playing and then [we will] go out and go home and have regrets. I’ve always believed – and I believe still – that if we play how we play and we know we can play, most teams, we’ll beat… let’s at least go out with a bang, if we’re going to go out. And be entertaining. That’s really important, because that’s something we haven’t been at all.”

England made three changes for their most recent game, a 229-run drubbing at the hands of South Africa on Saturday. Seemingly based on data from the IPL, Jos Buttler opted to bowl first on the third-hottest October day Mumbai had seen in a decade and England’s bowlers fried in the heat; South Africa’s 399 for 7 was the highest-ever score England had conceded in an ODI.

In selection, at the toss, and in their general approach, Moeen suggested that England have been guilty of overthinking. “For us, it’s just about playing how we play and not worrying too much about what the trend is at the moment,” he said. “A lot of the time, I feel England have set the trend for the last few years, and we’ve probably moved away from that.”

Moeen echoed the views of Rob Key, England’s managing director. “This is a unique place to come and play: it’s bloody tricky to work out what the best thing to do is,” Key said. “But what you can do is focus on what you actually do best – and regardless of any decisions that get made, you need your players to be playing at their very best in this competition. And we haven’t had that.”

Buttler is yet to fire at the World Cup, with 87 runs in four innings, and has a heavy workload as a keeper-captain. In Mumbai, he found himself running from behind the stumps to pass on advice to his bowlers and then back again while England were hammered at the death. “It’s not always that easy for a keeper to communicate,” Moeen said, adding that players have told him they “miss having me at mid-off”.

Among Moeen’s biggest challenges as vice-captain has been giving his inputs on selection and weighing up whether or not he believes he should play. “When Jos asks me what I think for the side and I don’t put myself in, or if I put myself in, that’s the hardest bit,” he said. “You try and do what’s best for the team as much as you can.”

That same mantra will underpin Moeen’s approach on Thursday: “I’m going to use all the intent that I have and take it on. That doesn’t mean slogging… it just means being brave and taking a risk if I need to – just being me, really. I’m going to take the situation out [of it] a lot of the time and just enjoy it as much as I can.”

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98

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