Moeen ready to snap back into ac­tion

All-rounder fit to play tonight af­ter side strain Cook sees ‘Alas­tair the rooster’ fed to croc­o­dile

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Ashes - By Scyld Berry CRICKET COR­RE­SPON­DENT in Townsville

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)

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