Ali ready for true Test
Moeen Ali is confident he is ready to make a success of his likely Test debut at Lord's this week. The Worcestershire player is part of England's 12-man squad for the series opener against Sri Lanka starting on Thursday and is pencilled in as the side's spin-bowling all-rounder.
The 26-year-old made his name in county cricket as a front-line batsman but England's lack of in-form spinners means he has been selected for Peter Moores' comeback Test as head coach as much for his bowling as his runs.
And it is a challenge he is delighted to embrace. "I don' think it gets better than this in international cricket, hopefully to make your debut at Lord's...I can't describe the feeling but it means a lot," he told Sky Sports News.
"I can't wait to walk through that room (Lord's' Long Room) and get out there. It's nice to be part of a new era - a similar thing happened with Worcestershire in county cricket when some big guys left and I had to step up. Every time I play I learn something, even in county cricket.
"I know my game bowling-wise and if I can pick up a few things from the guys around me, like the wicketkeeper who can give me tips, I'm happy to do that.
"I feel like I'm ready (as a batsman); I had a good knock last week and I'm ready to play."
England have had many travails against mystery spin - but at Lord's this week it will be they, rather than Sri Lanka, who have a doosra in their armoury.
In Moeen, England have the embryonic potential to return fire in the first Investec Test - against opponents who, these days, house only the conventional spin of Rangana Herath or Dilruwan Perera.
After tutorials with his Worcestershire team-mate Saeed Ajmal, another scourge of England for Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates three winters ago, Moeen is ready to start unleashing his new weapon.
Ajmal made mugs of England's batsmen in the desert with his doosra - a delivery with all the hallmarks of a conventional off-break yet which turns away rather than into the right-hander. Worcestershire's overseas player has been happy to pass on the tricks of his trade to Moeen.
"I worked really hard with it over the last month or so. I hope ... I'll be ready to bowl it. I bowled about eight in the last championship game, and in Twenty20s, I've been bowling five or six each game. So far every one's landed," said England's emerging all-rounder, one of three new faces in the frame for a first cap on Thursday.
That story so far is largely thanks to Ajmal. "He's helped me loads. He's pushed me, given me a lot of confidence - it does take a bit of time, because you bowl a lot of full-tosses in practice," added Moeen, set to be the first Englishman ever to bowl a doosra in a Test match.
"It's embarrassing at times. But he said he did exactly the same thing, so that gave me confidence to just keep trying to do it," he said.
Modern cricket is littered with instances of doosra exponents finding themselves under scrutiny, or even banned, as the boundaries are pushed and redefined as to what constitutes a legal action.
Moeen said: "The umpires in the championship games and the Twenty20s said they don't see any difference. Speaking to a lot of people, they say it's pretty sound, and I'll definitely be able to bowl it."
His doosra has yet to take a wicket, but he has had "a few plays-and-misses and ... a close lbw that bounced a bit high".
"I can't wait to get that one wicket with it, and then hope it gives me a lot of confidence. Saeed says once you get one or two wickets with it, you start bowling it a lot more. You always want to be sure you can do it legally. You have to get the opinions of everybody, and one or two said maybe you won't get away with it. I'm not sure I'm 'mystery' yet, but I hope in time I can become a mystery bowler."
More immediately, Moeen hopes too he is joined as a debutant this week by opener Sam Robson and pace-bowling all-rounder Chris Jordan.
"I know Sam and CJ really well. We had a chat yesterday and got quite excited that potentially all three of us could be playing. When we were in Australia (with the Performance Programme last winter), we were saying we would love to play international cricket together. (We've had) ODIs and Twenty20s - so now Test cricket, we hope."
Whoever takes the field with Moeen, he knows his presence is bound to be noticed beyond the traditional cricket audience. He describes his beard - the 'beard that's feared' in Worcestershire promotional literature - as a "label" for his faith.
"In terms of trying to inspire other people with faith to play, I am very proud of that. All the prophets, from Adam to Muhammad to Jesus, all these guys (had a beard). It is a label for us to show we are Muslim, just how it is when you wear a uniform in school. It represents that you have to be on your best behaviour all the time."
Moeen will be representing a proud family too, a culmination for him of many hours spent growing up in Birmingham playing backyard cricket with brother Kadeer - who also became a professional. Their cousin Kabir played one Test for England 11 years ago.
"I have played quite a few Test matches in the back garden with my two brothers, but this one is a bit different - obviously more exciting. My two brothers and my dad, who worked very hard on us, I am obviously happy for them. I went to Kabir's Test at Headingley - and my two brothers and parents are coming down (here), and my wife and my little boy."