Moeen Ali has urged England to stop being so miserable as they try to resurrect their unhappy World Cup campaign against Sri Lanka – but admits they will be ‘anxious’ ahead of Thursday game.
England’s vice-captain has looked on in frustration after being dropped just one game into the tournament, since when victory over Bangladesh has been followed by crushing defeats against Afghanistan and South Africa.
Another defeat by Sri Lanka – who have also lost three out of four – would almost certainly end England’s hopes of retaining the trophy they won four years ago. It would also amount to one of the lamest title defences in nearly 50 years of one-day World Cups.
And Moeen, who believes the ‘spark’ is missing, has warned his team-mates not to go home with any regrets, suggesting they have lacked intent and are taking the whole thing ‘too seriously’.
Moeen is expected to return to the side on Thursday at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium he knows well from his time with Royal Challengers Bangalore in the IPL. And he has no intention of dying wondering.
Moeen Ali (middle) has challenged his team-mates to have no regrets from this World Cup
‘When you sit outside for a while, you see things you don’t see when you’re playing, and I feel like our intent hasn’t been there,’ he said.
‘I’m going to make sure that, if I get my chance, I’ll use all that intent I have.’
England: 1 Jonny Bairstow, 2 Dawid Malan, 3 Joe Root, 4 Ben Stokes, 5 Jos Buttler (capt, wkt), 6 Moeen Ali, 7 Chris Woakes, 8 David Willey, 9 Adil Rashid, 10 Gus Atkinson, 11 Mark Wood.
Sri Lanka: 1 Pathum Nissanka, 2 Kusal Perera, 3 Kusal Mendis (capt, wkt), 4 Sadeera Samarawickrama, 5 Charith Asalanka, 6 Dhananjaya de Silva, 7 Angelo Mathews, 8 Dunith Wellalage, 9 Maheesh Theekshana, 10 Kasun Rajitha, 11 Dilshan Madushanka.
Moeen has been stewing behind the scenes, dismayed by England’s departure from the aggression that has made them double world champions, and baffled by the transition from four all-rounders in the game against New Zealand to none at all against South Africa. That change in policy has typified what managing director Rob Key believes a crippling tendency to ‘overthink’.
‘He’s probably right,’ said Moeen. ‘Sometimes you think too much, and it just doesn’t work for us.
‘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.’
Above all, he said the fun had disappeared from England’s changing-room, a comment that does not make happy reading for head coach Matthew Mott and captain Jos Buttler.
‘We haven’t enjoyed it as a team as much, because we’ve been losing and we’re not playing that well,’ he said.
‘You can see sometimes from the outside that we’ve probably lost that enjoyment.
‘Speaking to a few of the players, they’ve certainly said that they’re missing having me at mid-off. But it’s not why we’re losing, obviously.’
Moeen’s return will come at the expense either of Harry Brook, who remains the spare batsman, despite his high-class 66 against Afghanistan, or one of the seamers.
It has been frustrating for Moeen, having been dropped just one game into the tournament
He (right) conceded that the fun factor looks to have vanished from England’s dressing room
But Bangalore usually offers help for the quicker bowlers, and England have already lost the services of the injured Reece Topley. With this game coming too early for his replacement, Brydon Carse, a return to Chris Woakes, who was dropped against South Africa, cannot be ruled out.
Sri Lanka have not lost a World Cup game to England since 1999, and have drafted in injury replacement Angelo Mathews, who in that time has played in three of their four tournament wins against them, and made a match-winning 85 not out in the shock win at Headingley four years ago. On Wednesday night, he was promising to ‘fight fire with fire’.
There’s also the matter of Chris Silverwood, the Sri Lanka coach whose time in charge of England ended on a sour note after the 2021-22 Ashes. It would sum up England’s World Cup if the man they sacked 20 months ago now has a hand in their demise.
‘I’m sure deep down, like everybody else would, you’re trying to prove a point,’ said Moeen. ‘It might motivate him even more.’
For England, it’s a scenario that does not bear thinking about.