Cricket Expert & Columnist
England v South Africa: 'Influential' Moeen Ali is number one, says Nasser Hussain
'Moeen is England's No 1 cricketer at the moment, arguably'
Last Updated: 08/08/17 9:44am
Nasser Hussain described Moeen Ali as "arguably England's number one player at the moment" after their 177-run win over South Africa in the fourth Test.
Ali claimed 5-69 as South Africa were bowled out for 202 in their second innings on day four to see England take the series 3-1, their first series victory over South Africa at home since 1998.
Man-of-the-series Ali, meanwhile, is the first England player since Sir Ian Botham - in the 1985 Ashes - to score more than 250 runs and take 25 wickets in a series.
"He is a very influential cricketer, in so many ways, on and off the field," said Hussain after Ali's star turn. "He has become a very popular member of that team.
"He is so versatile; he will play any role, any position with the bat, and will bowl whenever you want.
"He started the series with 10 wickets at Lord's - English spinners don't do that. He then got a hat-trick at The Oval, got second-innings runs last night and finished the innings off today.
"Twenty-five wickets in the series! And that hasn't just been getting rid of tailenders; he has been getting frontline batsmen out.
"I've said before that he must be a nightmare to captain and coach because, at times, he does silly things. How many times have a team put three men out in the deep in a Test and Ali will find one of them? How many times do they bring a cover in and he hits the next ball to him?
"Coaches must think, 'shall I have a word with Ali, or shall I just leave him?' But that is what makes him the cricketer he is.
"Leave him be. If you knock him, it will stop him being that natural cricketer he is. You're going to have to take the odd hit with Ali but he will pay you back, and pay you back in double."
Ali actually started the series as England's so-called No 2 spinner, with Liam Dawson picked to bolster a six-man strong bowling attack, pushing Ali higher up the order.
But following their heavy second Test defeat at Trent Bridge, England returned to a five-man attack with Ali as the premier spinner, and Hussain believes that decision played a crucial part in the team's success.
"In that 10-day gap between the second and third Test, the selectors got it right, they found the right balance to the side," Hussain added. "They picked the extra batsman, had one less bowler and made Ali their No 1 spinner. He's their No 1 cricketer at the moment, arguably.
"Prior to that, England were over-complicating a simple game. Do we need two spinners? Who is our first spinner? What brand and style of cricket shall we play under the new captain?
"They'll soon have four all-rounders in the side - Ali, Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow joined by Chris Woakes. He has to come back into the team as he has been phenomenal in the last year.
"It means England's batting depth and all-rounder depth will only get bigger. But they've got to use that wisely, like they have done at the end of this series. Earlier on in the year, they didn't.
"Make no mistake, there are still gaps there, still times when England find themselves 90-4. But when they are 90-4, you so often see Joe Root still there, Bairstow, Moeen etc to come - that is the heartbeat of the England side, that middle order."