Moeen Ali added an explosive 21-ball 50 to his three wickets as England charged to a resounding victory over Sri Lanka A to begin their World Cup winter.
Moeen (55no), who learned on the eve of this first warm-up fixture at the SSC that he was to replace Alex Hales as Alastair Cook’s opening partner, made a remarkable start to his new job.
With 3-29 under his belt already, after England restricted their hosts to 198-6 in a match reduced to 43 overs per side by overnight rain, Moeen unfurled six fours from the first six legitimate balls he faced as left-armer Vishwa Fernando conceded 25 runs in the over.
Cook had played a maiden to Lahiru Gamage at the other end, but he too was soon tucking into the boundary count – and England raced to 92-0 in just 12 overs, Moeen having completed his 50 with a huge six off the spin of Ramith Rambukwella over long-off to add to his 10 fours.
His stunning half-century – and a slightly more sedate one from Cook – left England on course to overhaul their hosts’ total in the first warm-up fixture of their Sri Lanka tour before bad light prevented them from doing so. They nonetheless began their one-day campaign with a victory, by 56 runs on Duckworth-Lewis as they tune up for seven one-day internationals against Sri Lanka.
After demonstrating his shot-making ability against the new ball, as he did in the West Indies last spring when he began his international career in Cook’s absence, Moeen wants more.
“If everything goes all right, I’d love to open all the way through (to the World Cup),” he said.
“I’d love to open for the rest of my life for England.
“Whatever the team needs, I’ll do it. I don’t look at it as a permanent job (yet); I just look at it as an opportunity.”
His instant rush of six boundaries out of six is a first for him.
“I’ve never done that before. I’ve started a lot of innings (quickly). Obviously, there are days when it doesn’t come off – but thankfully today was a good start.
“I didn’t mean to hit six fours; I just reacted to what came down.
“There were a couple of half-volleys, a low full-toss, then the one over extra (cover) was a little bit wide.”
Moeen has two ODI 50s on his CV in just five innings so far, one in Antigua as an opener and a second down the order on his home ground at Edgbaston at the end of last summer.
“I can adapt. I can bat in all these positions,” he said.
“For Worcestershire, I’ve batted there for the last four or five years.”
Moeen could hardly wait to get started when Cook told him he wanted him to open here, and coach Peter Moores made it clear he was happy for him to take risks too.
“I was very excited, obviously – because it’s a role I feel very comfortable in – and think I can do a good job,” he said.
“When I play well, that’s what I do – just go out and try to enjoy hitting the new ball.
“There are loads of gaps, over the top (as well), and I’m not afraid to do it – even if it’s spinning big or whatever.
“If I get out, I get out.
“(Moores) just said ‘Go out and enjoy it – play how you play’.
“Playing against Lancashire, when he was there, I’ve done it a couple of times.”
Earlier, opener Kusal Perera (56) had given the home innings some substance.
Then from 122-6, an unbroken seventh-wicket stand of 76 almost scrambled 200 on a stodgy pitch.
After Sri Lanka A won the toss, Cook had the freedom to ensure all seven of his bowling options were used.
Among them, Moeen and Chris Woakes were the pick – with only Chris Jordan providing significant cause for concern especially in two initial overs which cost 25 runs, the second containing three wides, a no-ball and a free-hit six over long-on for Perera.
Steven Finn provided England’s early breakthrough, with a very good delivery which had Kaushal Silva edging behind on the front-foot defence.
The accurate Woakes had a stifling effect in a new-ball spell of 4-1-3-0.
Even after Perera lofted Moeen over long-on for six off the final ball of the 10th over, the total was still just 28-1.
Niroshan Dickwella helped Perera add 44 for the second wicket, before a sweep at Moeen resulted in a tumbling catch for James Tredwell at short fine-leg.
Then Moeen made short work of former Sri Lanka one-day international captain Dinesh Chandimal, who pushed forward and edged straight to Cook at leg-slip to go for a duck and give the off-spinner his second wicket in three balls.
Perera was threatening to give England’s bowlers a more thorough examination and brought up the 100, his own 67-ball 50 and a half-century fourth-wicket stand with captain Ashan Priyanjan when he smacked his third six.
He ramped an upper-cut straight to third man in Finn’s next over, however, and Moeen once again struck almost immediately when Thilina Kandamby made the second duck of the innings – poking a simple catch to cover.
Ben Stokes had a flat-footed Priyanjan edging a wide one behind – and although Jeevan Mendis (42no) and Rambukwella batted sensibly together, England bowled well enough in powerplay to keep the situation well under control.