By Craig Chisnall
MOEEN ALI’S ascension into the England ranks should act as an inspiration to the rest of the New Road squad for the coming season, according to captain Daryl Mitchell.
The 26-year-old has made a positive impression since being handed his England debut on the recent tour of the West Indies.
The PCA player of the year for 2013, after scoring 2,000 runs in all forms and taking 55 wickets, top scored in England’s opening World t20 defeat by New Zealand with an elegant 36 from 23 balls.
He’s now in contention for a Test place this summer with his more than handy off-spin and Mitchell believes his squad should aspire to the standards he sets.
“It’s been absolutely no surprise to see Mo go in and do so well with England,” said Mitchell. “He’s proved in recent years what a class act he is with the bat and hasn’t got the recognition he deserves with the ball.
“He’s been our front-line spinner for a couple of seasons and there’s no doubt in my mind he could and will play Test cricket this summer.
“He’s a better player for me than the likes of Jonny Bairstow and Gary Ballance and has his bowling as well.
“The work he’s done over the last few years has really paid off. No-one hits more balls than him, he’s always first into a lively net and the work he’s put in on the side of the game he doesn’t particularly enjoy – the fitness and fielding – has really paid off.
“And seeing him get his chance in international cricket is great for our dressing room.
“Every player in our dressing room should be aspiring to do that now and that can only be a good thing for the whole club.”
And Mitchell will be licking his lips at the prospect of pairing Ali with one of the men credited for taking his bowling to the next level – Pakistan’s Saeed Ajmal.
The veteran spinner is returning to the New Road, his first spell was in 2011 when he spent time with Ali teaching him tricks including a doosra, for the majority of the season and is expected to play 12 out of 16 Championship matches and ten of 14 t20 Blast games.
Despite seamer Alan Richardson retiring and taking a coaching job at Warwickshire, Mitchell still has an attack to be feared with Ajmal supplementing the likes of Ali, Jack Shantry, Gareth Andrew and the emerging Chris Russell.
“It’s fantastic to have Saeed coming back – he’s a wonderful signing on and off the pitch and is truly world class,” added opener Mitchell.
“He was a great presence off the field last time he was here, you only have to look at Mo’s bowling to see the influence he had.
“And he’s the perfect person to have as the leader of the attack now Alan has gone. But I believe Alan going will bring out the best in Jack and Gareth as well.”
Ajmal is the only arrival from outside with batsmen Tom Fell, Ed Barnard and Joe Clarke all set to push for first-team opportunities.
Fell, who made an impressive 62 not out against the touring Australians last summer in only his second first-class appearance, has quit university to fully focus on his cricket.
“We’ve not made wholesale changes to the squad and I don’t think we needed to,” added Mitchell. “We’ll no doubt fly under the radar again when people talk about trophy winners and promotion contenders. That’s fine by us. We’ve surprised those people before and the underdogs tag suits us.
“We believe we’ve got a core of quality players and youth will always get a chance here and we’ve got a lot of talented boys coming through.
“A lot is expected of Tom since that Australia innings last year so we’ve got to be careful but having him involved full-time is a big boost. He’s only going to get better and better.”