The Ashes: England hoping that ‘old is gold’ at Old Trafford
With record wicket-taker James Anderson returning to the XI less than two weeks before his 41st birthday, the home side are set to roll out the oldest pace attack in Ashes cricket since the Australian class of 1928.
That was the last time either side fielded four seamers aged 33 or above, a bar England will clear with ease when local favourite Anderson joins 37-year-old Stuart Broad, 34-year-old Chris Woakes and Mark Wood, the baby of the group at 33.
Their last remaining twentysomething, Ollie Robinson, made way for Anderson after struggling with back spasms during last week’s win at Headingley, and England’s collection of veterans even extends to 36-year-old spinner Moeen Ali.
“I was always told that old was gold,” said the all-rounder, who will continue to bat at No 3 in Manchester. “Somebody said it was the oldest attack since 1920-something. As somebody who’s quite old, I think it’s a great thing to be part of.
“But it’s not just old, it’s Jimmy, it’s Broady, Woakesy, Woody – they’re really good bowlers, good guys and hopefully they can get some wickets. You always know what you’re going to get, especially from those four seamers. Myself…you never know what you’re going to get, but with those guys you definitely know how good they are.”
Just a few short weeks ago Moeen was happily enjoying his red-ball retirement, only deciding to return to the fray after Jack Leach’s injury left England without an experienced spinner.
Now, as well as performing an important job with the ball, he finds himself pulling double duty in the pivotal No 3 position that was vacated when Ollie Pope dislocated his shoulder at Lord’s.
Yorkshire’s Harry Brook briefly inherited the mantle in the third Test but moved back down to his preferred position at five for the fourth innings and produced a knock of 75.
Moeen had initially volunteered to go up the order on a one-off basis but has been persuaded to remain in place to allow Brook to settle in the middle order.
That is entirely in keeping with an international career that has been built around selflessness and flexibility, occupying every spot from one to nine over the course of 66 Test caps as well as performing a variety of roles in the white-ball set-up.
“I just thought it was best for the team and the other guys more than myself,” he admitted.
“That’s the most important thing. I think Brooky is a great player and will be a great player, I just personally feel five is great for him. The impact he can have there is much more than he probably can at three at the moment. I just feel right now, for the team, it’s probably best I go three. I feel fine about it.”
Moeen’s comeback has already yielded one significant milestone – reaching 200 Test wickets at Headingley – and he now stands just 23 away from 3,000 runs.
Only 15 players have ever achieved both landmarks, including three Englishmen in Sir Ian Botham, Andrew Flintoff and Broad.
Moeen joked: “I think that means more to my dad!”