Moeen ready to snap back into action
All-rounder fit to play tonight after side strain Cook sees ‘Alastair the rooster’ fed to crocodile
England’s off-spinning all-rounder Moeen Ali confirmed he was fit again after his left side strain, but he did not do so at the England team’s apartments in this tropical city, or at the Tony Ireland Stadium, where they play a four-day game against the Cricket Australia XI starting tonight.
Hotel, ground and airport: these are the normal venues for touring cricketers. Moeen, however, was speaking at the Billabong Sanctuary south of Townsville, for a lighthearted change ahead of an intense Ashes series.
The wildlife park is a few kilometres south of Townsville off Bruce Highway, where the land is light green and there is little but eucalypts, and where the road signs hint at this country’s immensity: “Rockhampton 707km” and “Brisbane 1368km” as well as the warning: “Cattle on Highway north of Alligator Creek”. “I threw a ball and I could feel it straight away,” Moeen said about the damage he did when warming up in Perth.
“I just thought it was a little bruising or whatever. But we went through the tests and stuff and there were certain movements I couldn’t do, so they said it was a slight side strain and when we had the scan it was exactly that. I threw 20-odd balls the other day and was fine. I’m pretty much back to normal again.”
James Anderson had been listed to attend, along with Moeen, this promotion of the Ashes series (nothing could promote England’s game against the CA XI, so weak are Cadets Anonymous). Koalas would be cuddled, crocodiles fed. Alastair Cook, however, appeared instead of Anderson, presumably because the Australian media would have had a field day if one of the rapidly diminishing band of England’s fit pace bowlers had turned up. The outing would have been turned into a contest between Australia’s crocs and England’s crocks.
The mayor of Townsville welcomed the two England cricketers and said the dead roosters that would be fed to the crocodiles were called Mo and Alastair. What a gas, your worship!
But, before then, everyone went to the koala enclosure where a koala was fetched down from a tree and Cook cuddled it as if it had been one of his newborn lambs on his home farm.
Next, everyone went to see Caesar the Crocodile being fed one of the chooks. “Who’s coming in?” said the mayor, pretending to enter the gate of the compound. “Alastair!” said Moeen.
A merry jest – only Caesar was too tired to move, or even eat, and just clamped his jaws on the rooster, even refusing to smile for the cameras.
Plan B was for Cook to feed the other rooster, whatever its name, to a crocodile in another pen. This croc was a bit less bloated, more biddable, and duly accepted the offering on a fishing line.
England will hope that Cook does not similarly fish outside off stump against Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood.
Beyond the fun, and puns, it was good that Cook got out of the team hotel, even if he did not speak publicly, as Moeen did. The former England captain has appeared a little tense and edgy according to those who know him. He has not made his normal stack of runs – 47 in three innings – and he will be desperate to do so, both for his own record-breaking sake and to help his successor, Joe Root.
It so happens that the past two Ashes series that England have won in Australia have been founded on their tall left-handed opening batsman scoring three big centuries: Chris Broad in 1986-87, and Cook himself in 2010-11. They ground Australia’s fast bowlers into the dust by batting all day, breaking their backs and spirit, so that lesser ones had to be brought in.
Doing it once was magnificent: Cook totalled 766 runs in 2010-11. But doing it a second time in Australia is harder still. Wally Hammond scored the most runs in an Ashes series in Australia, 905 in 1928-29. On his three subsequent tours, his aggregate diminished to 440, then 468, and 168.
Cook, like Hammond, is on his fourth Ashes tour. He began with 276 runs in 2006-07, scaled the heights in 2010-11, then plummeted to 246 on the last tour which he captained.
Can he, like a koala returning to the top of a eucalypt, regain those heights?
Whole new ball game: Members of the England squad enjoyed a paintball session in Townsville after Moeen Ali cuddled a koala at the Billabong Sanctuary (left)