Moeen Ali takes pride in Geoffrey Boycott comparisons
It's safe to say Moeen Ali wouldn't often be compared to Geoffrey Boycott. But that's just what his team-mates called him in the tea-break during his half-century off 170 balls. It was an innings full of plays-and-misses, but it was hardly the only one, as England collapsed in familiar fashion following Alastair Cook's dismissal after lunch.
"I probably wasn't good enough to nick them," said Moeen. "When I went into tea, the guys were calling me Geoffrey Boycott, then they came in, played and missed their first ball, and I was pretty happy with that.
"I just tried to take it a ball at a time. I thought they bowled really well. The wicket was quite slow, but the ball was always doing something, so I just tried to stay as patient as I could. The Indian bowlers didn't give me a lot to hit. So I just tried to bat. I don't always play like that, but we were in a decent position."
Moeen's strike rate of 29.41 on the first day at The Oval was well below his Test career strike rate of 52.33 and, in between the customary gorgeous drives, his struggle with the moving ball in the hands of a clinical India bowling attack was evident both to the eye and by the numbers. Including his dismissal, he missed or edged the ball a total of 43 times. Mohammed Shami was a particular challenge: he beat Moeen's bat four times in one over and 18 times overall.
"You're always hoping to let them bowl and bowl," said Moeen. "But they just kept coming, bowling same pace, same areas. It was one of the best bowling attacks I've faced. They were just always, consistently there."
While there were plenty of close shaves (hopefully something he never considers in real life), Moeen admitted he took a different approach for this week, having more time to prepare for batting at No.3 than the matter of hours' notice he was given before the fourth Test in Southampton.
"I prepared different this week than I would have done previously, a bit more newer ball," said Moeen. "It just gives you time to get your mind around batting No.3 for England.
"I've not done it much for England before, and we've tried people - not just three but four, five - and I don't see why I can't bat there or do the job. I just go out and try to play according to the situation. I bat No.3 for Worcester, managed to score some runs there this year. So why not? Just go out and play the same way."
Moeen is likely to keep the job for the Sri Lanka tour but whether or not he is a stop-gap or a long-term solution remains to be seen. He has batted for England in every position from 1 to 9 - and, remarkably, has now shared in fifty-run partnerships for every wicket from 1 to 9 as well - and his willingness to play anywhere for the team can be a con as much as it is a pro for the allrounder.
"It's a good thing because there's times when you can balance the team out, and for that reason you get into the side probably before most of the other guys. But there's times also when you just feel you want a set batting position in the side."
For now, at least, it seems he will be given that certainty.