England in Pakistan: Moeen Ali prepares to lead tourists in landmark series

England face Pakistan in four T20s in Karachi and three in Lahore
Place: National Stadium, Karachi Date: October 20 Hour: 15:30 BST
Coverage: Ball-by-ball Test Match special commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra, BBC Sounds and the BBC Sport website and app. Live text commentary on the BBC Sport website and app

It is fitting that Moeen Ali will lead the England men’s cricket team in their first match in Pakistan for 17 years.

Moeen, whose family hails from Pakistan, is very good-looking and captains Jos Buttler, and will miss at least the opening stages of the seven-match Twenty20 tour with a calf injury.

The series sees two of the finest T20 teams face off as they prepare for the upcoming World Cup.

But this tour is about much more than runs and wickets.

Ever since the 2009 attack on the Sri Lankan team by gunmen, he promises to leave an important legacy to the younger generation of Pakistanis who have not seen England play there.

“It was meant to be,” Moeen told BBC Sport ahead of the first T20 in Karachi on Tuesday.

“I think it’s amazing that it’s the right time to take England there after so long.

“I’ve played in Pakistan before, but to represent England there for the first time, that’s special and amazing. I’m really excited and hopefully we can play good cricket and entertain the crowd.”

No international cricket was played in Pakistan for six years after the 2009 attack, with the national team playing most of its home matches in the United Arab Emirates.

Zimbabwe were the first team to return for a one-day international series in 2015, before Pakistan hosted Sri Lanka in 2019 in the country’s first men’s Test for 12 years, while Australia played three Tests, three ODIs and a T20 there earlier. this year

“Other teams have already toured, but when England go there, that’s when Pakistan cricket is back,” Moeen, 35, said.

“It’s really important because Pakistan have always had a very talented team, but they have to play in front of their own people and their own children to inspire the next generation.”

The New Zealand men abandoned their tour of Pakistan last winter due to a security threat England later withdrew their men’s and women’s teams of the scheduled tours, Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) chairman Ramiz Raja called the decision “absurd”.

The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) then agreed with the PCB to add two T20s to the originally planned five, with three Tests scheduled for December.

England's Moeen Ali gets off a bulletproof minibus in Pakistan
England is traveling in bulletproof minibuses

Security measures are being stepped up along this route, including bulletproof minibuses for daily trips and armed security personnel on duty at group hotels.

“The biggest shame is that we can’t go anywhere because Pakistan is an amazing place,” Moeen said.

“The food is unbelievable, and the restaurants are really good. I love Pakistani food.”

It’s hard to choose his favorite dish, though.

“I love daal and saag with chicken. I also like lamb. To be honest, I like all curries. I’m looking forward to the food. Hopefully we can order,” he added.

Deciding on your favorite Pakistani player is much easier.

“The one player I always loved and still love is Saeed Anwar, I loved his batting,” Moeen said.

Moeen has a special relationship with Pakistan coach Saqlain Mushtaq, a former off-spinner who used to be England’s spin bowling coach.

“I call him my ustaad (teacher),” Moeen said. “He’s one of the greatest coaches I’ve ever worked with, definitely the best spin coach.”

Pakistan batsman Shan Masood (left) talks to England batsman Alex Hales (right)
Shan Masood could make his T20 debut for Pakistan, while Alex Hales was called up by England for the first time since 2019 to replace the injured Jonny Bairstow.

The series has added importance to Pakistani batsman Shan Masood, who at the age of 32 has received his first call-up to international T20 cricket.

“It means a lot, this series is historic and it’s great to be a part of it,” he said.

“We have suffered a lot with cricket in Pakistan. We have lost a lot of cricket over the generations because we haven’t had cricket at home. We haven’t been able to let the kids follow the game or follow their heroes.”

“Pakistani cricket has survived and thrived, but the benefits you get from playing in home conditions are significant.

“Everyone is excited. We’ve seen it sometimes in stadiums in Pakistan where there might be 30,000 people but there’s about 40,000 people on the ground. It’s the love people have for the game.”

Although they are against Moeen and Masood teams, they have the same idol.

“Nobody beats Saeed Anwar,” Masood said. “Even as a left-handed opening batsman, I didn’t have to look much further.”

Pakistan is also trying to recover from recent catastrophic floods that have killed nearly 1,500 people since mid-June. It has affected about 33 million people overall.

“We’ve all been devastated by the disruptions caused by the floods, so to see people, no matter what they’re going through, focus on cricket shows how much they love the game,” Masood said.

“Now that we’ve got home cricket back, everyone is excited.

“What I love most about Pakistan is how welcoming and friendly the people are. It’s indescribable. I love the passion our people show for cricket.”

Next month, Pakistan and England will demonstrate the extraordinary way cricket can bring people together.

As Masood said about the importance of sports in Pakistan: “No matter what happens in life, cricket comes first and everything else comes later.”