Moeen Ali still England’s best spin bowler ahead of India tour, says Steve Harmison

Former England star Steve Harmison spoke exclusively to RadioTimes.com about the shape of England's bowling line-up and the importance of Moeen Ali.

Moeen Ali England cricket

Steve Harmison believes Moeen Ali remains England’s best spin bowling option ahead of their tour of India.

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Harmison, who made his Test cricket debut for England against India in 2002, will be part of talkSPORT’s exclusive radio coverage of India v England.

The 42-year-old appreciates that Ali’s form has declined since his early days, but thinks he could still provide a threat to India’s menacing batting line-up.

Speaking exclusively to RadioTimes.com, Harmison said: “The spin bowling department is a work in progress. I still believe Moeen Ali is our best spin bowler.

“Is Moeen Ali the Moeen Ali that played 1-45 Test matches and not the 45-60 Test matches? If he’s the latter, then there’s possibly a question mark over his hunger and desire to get back to his best. If we get the Ali from the start, he’s still our best, our No.1 wicket-taker, our No.1 spinner.

“There’s still a lot of question marks. It’s unfortunate the way the COVID world is – that put paid to seeing Moeen in Sri Lanka – but if you’re asking me who England’s best spin bowler is, even though he’s had troubles in the last 10-15 Test matches, I still believe it’s Ali.

“I still think he should play in the first Test against India, probably along with Jack Leach,” he added.

“But there could be times in this series where all three play together; you might just see Ali bat at No.3 and then play as a third spinner with Dom Bess and Leach further down the order.”

Harmison is optimistic about England’s bowling department, despite them facing a mega test in the shape of India’s fearsome top order.

He is confident England’s seasoned veterans will continue to produce reliable results when given the chance.

“I think England have got their ducks in a row better in the bowling department because they have the two stalwarts in Stuart Broad and Jimmy Anderson.

“You know you’ve got somebody you can rely on, at least one, every single time. I don’t think they’ll play together other than possibly the third Test in Ahmedabad.

“When it comes to the day-night game, you might punt for Broad and Anderson playing together because there’s a week off in between games and you could get them ready just in case the pink ball does move about a bit.

“If that’s the case, you’re nearly in English-type overhead conditions, you potentially could go with them both.”

Harmison knows the English bowlers will need to be at their absolute best in order to dislodge the likes of Virat Kohli, Rishabh Pant and Rohit Sharma.

He said: “Getting wickets. That’s the biggest challenge. Runs and wickets are currency for batters and bowlers. When you get in as a batsman, like Root did in Sri Lanka, you cash in. Your team doesn’t lose then. You draw the game or you win the game.

“That’s how good these batsmen are from India: if they go on and get 50, they get 100, they get big hundreds.

“Being able to break those partnerships, from a spin bowler or a good catch in the field, or something from Jofra Archer or Mark Wood – though he’s missing the first two Tests – that ability to get a wicket when nothing is happening is something England have to get right, as well as scoring first innings runs.

“India’s top order have proven time after time in their own back garden, and around the world in Australia, that they can score enough runs in big Test matches.

“Kohli’s coming back after being humiliated – and he was, he walked off that field in Adelaide and he was humiliated. I think you’ll see a very powerful Kohli come Chennai first Test match and prove, ‘You know what, I’m still belong as Test captain, I still am the best player in the world, and I’m going to show the Indian public that I am that.’

“If he does that, England are in for a long six weeks.”

To follow the action from India on talkSPORT 2, download the talkSPORT app, re-tune your DAB radio, listen at talkSPORT.com or tell your smart speaker to ‘play talkSPORT 2’. Coverage of the first Test starts at 3:45am from 5th February, with play from 4am.

Check out our guide to India v England including a full TV and radio schedule.

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