Moeen Ali has told Brendon McCullum he is willing to come out of Test retirement to help England’s new head coach rebuild their red-ball fortunes – and he could be joined by his close friend and fellow spinner Adil Rashid.
McCullum wants to assemble a squad of cricketers to ‘dominate at the top’, and has singled out both men, along with Jos Buttler and Liam Livingstone, as players who can lend strength in depth in all conditions to England’s Test squad.
Ali, who has taken 195 wickets with his off-breaks and scored 2,914 runs in 64 Tests, retired from the format in September, citing a lack of motivation. He also felt he was misused at times by former captain Joe Root. But The Mail on Sunday understands he has already spoken to McCullum about his future.
Moeen Ali retired from Test cricket due to a lack of motivation but he could return once again
A source said: ‘He respects Brendon immensely and would play for him. He’s always been committed to England and wishes to continue. He will assist when required.’
With England due to play three Tests in Pakistan this winter, McCullum – whose first task is to beat his compatriots New Zealand in a three-match series starting at Lord’s on Thursday – will want as many spin-bowling options as possible.
Ali may also come into the reckoning against South Africa in August. On their last visit here four years ago, he scored 252 runs and took 25 wickets at 15, including a hat-trick at The Oval.
When it was put to him that Ali had retired from Test cricket, McCullum replied: ‘We’ll see. I’m sure if Mo wanted to, and was prepared to put the yards in to make it back into the side, then he’d challenge, no doubt.’
Ali could be joined by close friend Adil Rashid (pictured), but his situation is more complicated
Leg-spinner Rashid’s situation is more complicated. Like Ali, he fell out of love with Test cricket during Root’s reign, and hasn’t played a first-class match of any kind – including for Yorkshire – since the Bridgetown Test of January 2019.
It doesn’t help that there are few chances coming up to prove he can still bowl long spells with the red ball. Between now and September, the only four-day county match that doesn’t clash with Rashid’s white-ball commitments with England is against Hampshire, starting on June 12.
Despite that, a long-standing shoulder problem is now in the past, and he is said to be enthusiastic about the thought of forming part of McCullum’s dynamic set-up – assuming he can get enough first-class cricket under his belt.
All seven of his four-wicket hauls in Test matches have come in Asia, which brings the Pakistan tour into sharper focus. He is 34 – the same age as Ali – but is said to be nowhere near contemplating retirement.
‘I’m not sure someone like Adil would play every game every year anyway,’ said McCullum. ‘But my mentality is, if they’re the best cricketers, why not have conversation and see where you get to?’
Brendon McCullum (pictured) wants to assemble a squad of cricketers to ‘dominate at the top’
The same applies to Buttler, who has been the star of this year’s IPL, scoring four hundreds for Rajasthan Royals, and Livingstone, who is yet to win a Test cap but whose powerful white-ball striking has caught the new coach’s eye.
Dropped for the recent tour of the Caribbean after a disappointing Ashes, Buttler has looked in danger of turning his back on Test cricket altogether. But he has strong advocates in Ben Stokes, England’s new captain, and McCullum himself, who both believe he can add to his 57 Test appearances.
‘He’s one of those players you look at instantly and think: “How could he be so dominant in one form of the game and not quite have found his feet, other than a few fleeting performances, in Test cricket?”’ said McCullum.
‘I look at all of those guys and think there’ll be a time where they may get an opportunity if they’re invested enough. There’s probably been a bit of hurt at times for them, because they’ve been in and out of the team and there hasn’t been that persistence for them.
‘They have all played international cricket before, been successful in the other forms of the game and you’d think they’d be able to transition across. If you’ve got some of these other guys wanting to play, banging the door down with their own performances, then you’ve got a team who can dominate at the top.’
As for Livingstone, who lit up the 2021 summer with his pavilion-clearing sixes, McCullum said: ‘A conversation needs to be had about what his appetite for Test cricket is. And if he is keen on playing, then how does he see himself getting into the side?
‘I don’t have any pre-conceived thoughts about whether he’s good enough or not. I just look at him and think he’s a very good cricketer, and think it’s worth having a conversation.’