England’s cricketing endeavours took an astonishing U-turn last week. Following their comprehensive win against India to draw the current series 1-1, the cricketing world’s discussions dramatically transformed from hypothesising a cull of underperforming players to talking about a side that could go on to achieve big things. Such is the fickle nature of sports journalism.
What is most exciting about this England side are the younger players who have all managed to illustrate that they have the necessary qualities to excel at the highest level. Moeen Ali has been particularly impressive especially when one considers his somewhat tumultuous introduction to international cricket. With the constant focus on British Muslim identity, Moeen’s selection for England was always going to spark some interest given his visible appearance as a devout Muslim.
At the very beginning of his England career, Moeen Ali made no secret of the importance of his faith to his life. In an interview, he stated ‘I want people to know I am a Muslim and I want people to know I am representing the Muslim faith. I want to show that you can practice your faith and still play cricket to a high level.’ His statements certainly caused controversy, most notably by Michael Henderson of the Telegraph who proceeded to remind Moeen very strongly that ‘you are playing for England, not your religion’.  Moeen didn’t seem to be perturbed by these comments and instead responded to them with his bat by scoring a gutsy and selfless hundred against the Sri Lankans which almost saved England from the jaws of defeat; the perfect response to anyone who had ever questioned Moeen’s commitment to the England team. Following on from this, pundits began to debate his ability as a spin bowler. Many had labelled him as merely a useful part-timer, and a number of commentators harshly questioned his ability as a match-winning bowler.
Most recently, Moeen Ali caused some controversy by sporting ‘Save Gaza’ and ‘Free Palestine’ wristbands as he took to the cricketing field with accusations of abusing his position as an England cricketer to make controversial political statements. Again, he seemed untroubled and this time chose to respond with the ball by taking 8 wickets in the third test match against India, a team that is traditionally known for its ability to dominate spin bowlers. Not only did he make the pundits eat their words about his bowling, but he also demonstrated his ability as a genuine all-rounder, one of the fundamental ingredients required to make a quality international cricket team.
Aside from his cricketing abilities, Moeen’s brief international career has thus far shown us his remarkable temperament. To turn on match-winning performances of this nature whilst being in the media spotlight is highly impressive. So where does he obtain such a strong mental attitude from? A recent interview with sports psychologist Steven Sylvester, who has been working with Moeen for the last 2 years provides some insight on the ‘Without Ego’ concept which Moeen employs:
“His faith gives him a greater perspective where it’s not about bigger, bolder, stronger, more money, more success, staying hungry, the typical things that a lot of successful sports people are about. It’s about being humble and having gratitude. The programme we have worked through is about understanding selfishness on one end of the continuum and selflessness at the other end. The idea of ‘Without Ego’ is what can you contribute back, what is your purpose here and what can you see beyond yourself.”
Sylvester said he was particularly impressed by Moeen’s ‘remarkable ability’ to nullify any negative judgement. It was however interesting to note that Sylvester seemed to explain Moeen’s strong mental attitude as a result of being from a family of cricketers; his brothers are also professional cricketeters and his cousin has also represented England in the past. However, Sylvester’s conclusion on Moeen’s temperament begs the question as to why Moeen in particular has superseded his brothers and cousins in his cricketing achievements? Surely this suggests that there must be another explanation?
Whilst mention was made of Moeen’s faith as one of the contributing factors of his unflappable temperament, could it be the case that his entire demeanour is inspired by his religion? After all the ‘Without Ego’ philosophy which Moeen seems to have adopted seems very much in line with one of the fundamental aspects of the Islamic ethos, where Muslims are continually warned about the dangers of becoming obsessed with chasing worldly success, and instead to be thankful to their Lord for the opportunities He has granted them. Such a mindset also seems to be present in Hashim Amla, the current captain of the South African cricket team who is also a devout Muslim, and a number of parallels can be drawn between both individuals. Amla too has had his fare share of media interest, most famously when Dean Jones called him a terrorist whilst commentating. Amla illustrated his noble character by quickly forgiving Jones’ lazy comments, and said that ‘’when a guy apologises, who is to judge but the Almighty? And if it prompts another person to make an effort to find what Islam means, then a lot of prejudices will be blown away.’’ Amla also chose to responded to the media interest surrounding his faith with the bat; he is widely regarded as one of the best batsmen in the world at the present. Furthermore, the most notable aspect of his game is his temperament which, much like Moeen Ali, never seems to be overcome by the challenges that confront him, both on and off the field.
Given that we seem to living in an era where religion is deemed to be a private affair, it is rather refreshing to see openly devout sporting personalities such as Amla and Ali achieving great success. It is clear that they consider it an honour to represent their country at the highest level, and in addition, by embodying the core teachings of their faith into their persona, not only are they able to enter into a higher mental state allowing them to fulfill their potential on the field, but perhaps more importantly, they are able to break down prejudices and correct misconceptions, and that is something we should all celebrate.