LONDON: Moeen Ali believes English cricket is missing a trick by not reaching out to more potential players from Britain’s Asian communities.
Ali, whose hat-trick sealed England’s 239-run win in the third Test against South Africa at The Oval on Monday, is the latest of several players of Asian descent to represent England, including former captain Nasser Hussain, with cricket deeply embedded in the life of many British Asian communities.
But Ali, who was born and brought up in Birmingham, a city with one of Britain’s largest Asian populations, said more work was needed if English cricket was to make the most of this enthusiasm for the sport.
“Now, a lot more south Asian people are thinking: ‘Actually, I could make a good career from this now.’ But it’s also down to the counties to do more to help South-Asian kids,” Ali, who started his career with Birmingham-based Warwickshire before moving to Midlands rivals Worcestershire, told the Guardian on Wednesday.
“Look at Warwickshire. This is a big city of Asian people, so why can’t you produce any south Asian players? I don’t understand.”
‘Vast talent pool’
The England and Wales Cricket Board have launched a south Asian initiative to help develop players from those backgrounds and Ali said: “It’s a very good step in the right direction to ask people how the ECB can help them. It’s very positive because the pool of talent is vast.
“But the south Asian mentality must also change. Cricket is not just batting and bowling. There’s a lot of physical stuff, fitness, fielding, diet, discipline, being on time.”
The bearded Ali, a 30-year-old off-spinning all-rounder, is also one of the most high profile practising Muslims in British public life and a representative of a community that has often felt stigmatised following recent terror attacks in Manchester and London.
“There is such negativity in the media around Islam but when I play cricket for England I don’t have to say anything,” Ali added.
“I’m hoping people look at me and other Muslims and think: “Actually, it will be all right. They’re not too bad.’”
Meanwhile Ali, who made his name as a batsman, was hailed as an “unsung hero” by former England captain Alastair Cook.
England are now 2-1 up against South Africa ahead of the fourth and final Test starting in Manchester on Friday.
Ali is the leading bowler on either side with 18 wickets — including a 10-wicket haul in England’s series-opening win at Lord’s where he also made 87.
“It has been an amazing series for Mo, he is a legend,” opening batsman Cook told BBC Radio Four’s Today programme.
“He is the unsung hero in one sense.
“He came into the side a few years ago when I was captain as a guy who could balance the side and bowl a little bit of off-spin and now he is the leading wicket-taker in the series.
“His off-spin is actually very good, he’s not (former England off-spinner) Graeme Swann but his record is improving all the time.”