England will have to do without Moeen Ali as they try and bounce back from their thrashing in the second Test against India, after captain Joe Root revealed the all-rounder had opted out of the remainder of the series.
The 33-year-old made his Test comeback after 18 months in Chennai, taking eight wickets and making the tourists’ top score of the match with 43 in the fourth innings.
He was not at his best consistently but an ability to conjure special deliveries – most memorably when dismissing home captain Virat Kohli with a ripper on the first morning – and his six-hitting prowess provided some of the biggest positives from an otherwise dispiriting 317-run loss.
But while they move on to the day/night Test in Ahmedabad with the series tied at 1-1, Moeen will head for home having taken up the rest period offered to all multi-format players this winter.
Ben Stokes, Jofra Archer, Jos Buttler, Jonny Bairstow, Mark Wood and Sam Curran have all been granted similar breaks during this run of six back-to-back Tests and Moeen has now taken the opportunity to leave the restrictive bubble environment.
His situation is unique among that group insofar as he tested positive for Covid-19 on arrival in Sri Lanka last month and has since been forced to spend a combined 20 days in hotel isolation due to quarantine requirements.
Ben Stokes, Jofra Archer, Jonny Bairstow, Jos Buttler, Mark Wood, Sam Curran, Moeen Ali.
That he is due back for the Twenty20 series, which starts four days after the end of the final Test, and also hopes to take part in the Indian Premier League only serves to further complicate the issue.
“Moeen has chosen to go home. It’s obviously been a very tricky tour for him,” Root said.
“As we mentioned at the start (of the winter), if players feel like they need to get out of the bubble, then that’s been an option. It is really important that we stand by that.
“That decision has been made. Hopefully he feels better for it. With Moeen it wasn’t about asking if he wanted to stay, it was a decision; he had chosen.
“Of course we wanted as many players available for as long as possible, but you also want them to be very comfortable here and for Mo, he obviously wants to be at home with his family and we completely understand that.
A convincing win for India as they level the series.
— England Cricket (@englandcricket) February 16, 2021
“If you look at this tour, it’s been a really difficult one for him, having Covid, being in his room for such long periods of time, and I think we’ve come to a point where he wants to get out. I’m sure it wasn’t an easy decision for him, but it’s one we completely respect and understand.”
England have been admirably up front about their commitment to taking players off the treadmill, an overt attempt to look after mental well-being at a time of great uncertainty and unprecedented control over their movements.
But there is a growing sense that the flexibility of allowing such movement in and out of the squad – Wood and Bairstow are back for the third Test having recently returned from England – is creating an unwieldy environment.
3rd Test: Feb 24-28, Ahmedabad (day/night)
4th Test: Mar 4-8, Ahmedabad
T20 series: Mar 12-20, Ahmedabad
ODI series: Mar 23-28
Root, whose job it is to knit things together on the pitch, said: “It is difficult, it is challenging, but so is everything at the moment.
“In these times – with Covid, with bubble life, with the amount of cricket we’ve got and trying to factor it all in together – it is tough.
“We just have to make sure that we get the best out of the players that are here. My job is to manage the squad of players that we have and I’m trying to do that to the best of my ability.
“We’re one-all in a very exciting series, with two games at a new stadium and a pink ball game coming up. We are very much looking forward to getting stuck into it.”