Moeen Ali is confident he has helped put England in a winning position after “riding the wave” in his instinctive counter-attacking half-century at Old Trafford.
Moeen’s response to a spot of adversity at 153 for seven in England’s second innings was to play to his strengths as a natural strokemaker – especially after being dropped at slip on 15 by Dean Elgar off Keshav Maharaj.
He went on to hit eight fours and three sixes in an unbeaten 67 from 59 balls as England reached 224 for eight, and a lead of 360 already, on a rain-shortened third day of the fourth Investec Test.
The all-rounder passed 50 with his second six, hoisted over long-on into the pavilion where it was caught by England wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow – much to the amusement of captain Joe Root.
By then, Moeen had already delighted the crowd – including his own family, up for the day from Birmingham to check how he is faring for England these days.
The Manchester-style chants were soon in full cry, spurring him on to keep going for his shots. “They asked me to wave at them a couple of times, and it’s difficult when you’re batting,” he said with a smile. “But it can help at places like here and Edgbaston, where the crowd do get on your side and you ride the wave a little bit.
“I just went with the flow.”
He let his bat do the talking, but did acknowledge his nearest and dearest once he spotted them.
“My family were in the crowd, my parents, and I just wanted to make sure they enjoyed my batting,” said Moeen. “Once I knew where they were sitting, and got my 50, I gave them a bit of a wave.”
His second six, off Maharaj, carried all the way to Bairstow on the players’ balcony.
“I just went on instinct, and backed myself,” added Moeen.
“I just felt the way I was playing, and the way the crowd were, I had enough confidence to hit it.”
Moeen dominated an eighth-wicket stand of 58 with Toby Roland-Jones, after Duanne Olivier had taken three for 38 – and admitted it was one of his most satisfying innings for England.
“I think (it was my) best in terms of trying to take momentum away and putting pressure back on them,” said Moeen.
His early escape thanks to Elgar, one of five dropped catches by South Africa, helped to make his mind up.
“It looked like he had it in his hand, then as he landed it popped out,” added Moeen. “Sometimes things go your way.
“I’ve always had the backing to go out and play with that freedom… (and) I decided once I was out there and had a few balls, I was going to play like that.
“I feel sometimes it’s the right thing to do. There have been times in the past where I’ve done it and it’s not come off… but I just thought ‘why not?’ today.”
Moeen agrees South Africa appear up against it to avoid defeat, or even pull off a victory which would earn a share of the series, on a pitch of increasingly variable bounce.
“Definitely… we’ve put pressure on them, and it’s turned our way,” he said.
“It was a tricky wicket to bat on, and we were going well (already) with the lead we had… and a few more runs tomorrow, I hope we can bat them out of the game.”
He may well play a big part with the ball, too, having taken a career-best 20 wickets in the series already. “I hope so… but I’m not getting too excited about it,” he said. “I’m just going to do exactly what I’ve been doing, and try to spin it as much as I can.”
South Africa still believe they have an outside chance here, however, according to Maharaj. “Dropping a few catches doesn’t help – but there are a few runs (still) to be scored out there,” he said.
“I hope our batting unit can come together and chase down whatever England set us.”