Moeen Ali has been waiting for this tour. He has been dreaming about it since he felt he had earned his place in the England team. But he never imagined he would be captain when it finally happened. “It’s a great honour regardless of who it’s against,” Moeen says, “but to do it in Pakistan when the team are coming back here, that’s amazing for me personally, especially when I have family who migrated from here back in the day.”
His grandfather moved to England from Kashmir after the second world war and his mother was born here. He spent time playing here as a child and again, more recently, in the Pakistan Super League.
“I’m somebody that wants to play cricket in every nation,” Moeen says, “and Pakistan especially, after so long.” It has been 17 years since England were last here. His decision to play in the PSL in 2020 was, he says, because he wanted to help play his part in “putting Pakistan cricket back on the map”. He sees this tour as an extension of that. “I wanted to be part of this. It’s a big thing when England come to Pakistan, more than any other country, England’s the one that the Pakistan fans really love to see coming here.”
His phone has not stopped ringing since he arrived. He has an uncle who lives here and plenty of friends too. “I’ve had so many messages”– most of them asking if he can help dig up tickets – “that it’s a bit of a killer for me.” But he is happy to have the distraction. He is obviously frustrated with the tight security for the tour and the way he and the team are sealed off from the city in Karachi. He brought his wife and children out when he was playing in the PSL and they spent time visiting friends and going to cafes. In between training this week he has been stuck in the team room, reading, chatting, playing cards.
He says the restrictions are going to shape his decision about whether or not to make himself available for the Test matches here in December. He had seemed enthusiastic when Brendon McCullum floated the idea of picking him earlier in the summer but he seems to have pulled back from that. “I’m not sure yet,” he says. “I want to see how this goes. I don’t like being stuck in a hotel for so long so I’m going to see how I cope with this as well.”
It was frustrating for him that England pulled out of their planned tour here last year but he is phlegmatic about it now. “Obviously there was still a little bit of Covid then, so you don’t know what the restrictions might have been. At least now everybody can come. I’m a big believer that when things aren’t easy, if you have a bit of patience, then they become easy.” That idea seems to be on his mind. It comes up again when he is talking about the state of the team before the T20 World Cup next month.
“It’s not my style to be desperate for something,” Moeen says. “It is important we don’t put pressure on ourselves and say: ‘We are going to win a World Cup.’ We have been such a good side over the last two or three years but we have missed out too, which is about weight of expectation. I think we need to focus on one game. Let’s play our best cricket and not worry about the end result. That will take care of itself. The World Cup in 2019 was different. We were the favourites, but I don’t think we are favourites now. I think we are one of the better sides, not favourites.”
England have brought an odd squad here. It has been picked with one eye on the World Cup and the other on bringing new players through for the years after. It includes four players – Jos Buttler, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood, and Reece Topley – who will miss the opening game on Tuesday because they are working their way back to fitness in time for the World Cup, and six more – Will Jacks, Tom Helm, Jordan Cox, Luke Wood, Ben Duckett and Olly Stone – who were not picked for the tournament. All that uncertainty means Moeen has taken on a different role. This is Buttler’s team but it is clear, listening to Moeen here, that he is leading, too, and not just at the toss.
He has some strong ideas about what went wrong this summer, when the team lost series against South Africa and India. “This summer was quite poor for us. We didn’t play very well at all.” He says they spent too much time talking about the way they used to do things when Eoin Morgan was captain. “‘We used to do this’, ‘We used to do that’ or ‘The reason why we were so good was this’. We have to move on from that now. It is not easy for Jos coming in and taking over from Eoin but it is Jos’s side now. I think this is going to be the starting point. You are going to see a real change in the way the side goes about things.”
They will still want to be “brave and be aggressive, like we always have been” but “there also needs to be more of a method to it”, he says. “This summer we were going out and trying to be really aggressive and we were being bowled out.” It’s hardest for the more inexperienced players. “They’ve seen the way we’ve played over the last four or five years and they think they need to come in and go bang, bang, bang with the bat. But actually it doesn’t need to be that. We need to get that balance right.”
Pakistan are in a similar position, with Shaheen Shah Afridi and Fakhar Zaman out injured and three debutants in this format in their squad, including Shan Masood, who made so many runs for Derbyshire this summer. “Both teams are probably on the same level at the moment. We’ve got players missing, they’ve got a couple missing, they’re also having a bit of a transition even though they’re playing well, I’m expecting a really hard series, a tight series.” And an exciting series. It is the nature of T20 that games come and go but he, at least, will surely remember these seven long after they are over.