To Moeen Ali, Vice-Captain, and all that is good about English cricket

Moeen Ali

Ollie Phillips

Moeen Ali has played a senior role for England before. His appointment as the vice-captain of the Test side for the fourth Test against India at the Oval is temporary, filling in for Jos Buttler on paternity leave. But there remains a great deal of significance in Moeen being rewarded with such official seniority in the game's most scrutinised, well-publicised format.

England's off-spinning all-rounder is often underappreciated when it comes to his importance to sporting society in the country. Born in Birmingham in 1987 to a Pakistani father and British mother, Moeen was all too aware of the residue of racist abuse and daily discrimination lining the streets of his home town and so many others. Many of his friends turned to drugs, gangs and theft.

Since living there as the easily-distracted kid hitting balls off the nearest strip of tarmac, Moeen has been desperate to re-invest into the area that raised him, installing a brand new sports hall and providing hope to all those who idolise him there. His upbringing has given Moeen an exceptional perspective on life, appreciating others from all the backgrounds that populated the streets of Birmingham all those years ago.

Religion plays a huge role in the left-hander's life, and he expressed his intentions to ESPNCricinfo in 2015 of volunteering at his local Mosque when his cricketing career comes to an end. Accordingly, England now wait for Moeen to take a step back from the podium after accepting the honours of a Test series before they spray their champagne and beer over each other.

That integration has not been a perfect process and it seems an obvious, unpraiseworthy thing to do, but the few seconds of calm as the players pause the often overwhelming emotion of victory to respect Moeen encapsulates what he means to English cricket. He embodies its diversity, has gone to great lengths to broaden its reach and works to ease its socio-economic inequalities.

His cricketing brain has been on full display for Worcestershire in the T20 Blast and more recently Birmingham Phoenix in the Hundred, as he again took centre stage over the summer. Moeen's journey on the international stage, from the highs of the 2013 Ashes to the lows of the 2017/18 edition, is one of great trials, a triumph of mental fortitude unsurprising given the nature of the man.

Moeen does not take his cricket too seriously, and offers the game the same attitude he did on that tarmac: a fierce competitiveness combined with a relaxed freedom, one which brings out the best of his game. We have witnessed him do some wonderful things: that hat-trick against South Africa in 2017, a young boy in the crowd jumping up and down in admiration of his hero; that Oval hundred against Pakistan in 2016; indeed, that dismissal of Virat Kohli in Chennai this year.

His contributions to the game, both on the field and off it, have been rewarded as he heads to the Oval in 2021 as vice-captain of the England Test side. In doing so, he will inevitably thrill those watching with his languid batting and drifting off-spin. He will also, far more effectively than the t-shirts donned by England before day one, show those of racial, social or economic minorities that the penetrable professional game will open its arms to them, that its treatment of the likes of Azeem Rafiq has a platform to be corrected.