England Allrounder Moeen Ali Set for 100th ODI v Sri Lanka
It says a lot about England's approach to one-day cricket since the last World Cup that Moeen Ali ranks the highlight of his career in the format as just being a part of the squad.
Moeen made his ODI debut against West Indies in 2014 and was a member of the England squad that had a humiliating group-stage exit at the 2015 World Cup.
England has undergone a revolution in attacking style under Eoin Morgan's captaincy and is now the pace-setter in the ODI format, starting this World Cup as the title favorite on home soil.
"Just being part of the team — being part of the change, I guess, since when I first came in and to see the team where we are now," Moeen said when asked for the highlight of his first 99 ODIs. "Looking back if I was to retire, I'd always think I was part of that change, the mind-set changing and the great cricket we've played."
With Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow blazing away at the top of the order, Joe Root as a steadying influence, the likes of Morgan, Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes in the middle order and Adil Rashid as the preferred spin bowler, there's not always room for Moeen in the starting XI.
That doesn't bother Moeen, who missed the win over Bangladesh days before his wife gave birth to their second child and then was a strategic omission in the victory over the West Indies. He played a cameo nine-ball 31 in the win over Afghanistan in Manchester that contained four sixes and helped England improve its own world record for most sixes in an ODI innings to 25.
He's set to go again against Sri Lanka at Headingley, with England unlikely to change the combination — particularly with Roy sidelined with injury.
England has beaten South Africa, Bangladesh, West Indies and Afghanistan in the tournament so far and can retake the lead in the standings with a victory over a Sri Lanka squad that has had a disjointed tournament. The Sri Lankans have had just one win — over Afghanistan — as well as two washed-out games and two losses.
The top four teams — unbeaten New Zealand and India, plus England and Australia — have been the most consistent so far, but Moeen said teams such as Bangladesh and Sri Lanka were capable of producing upsets that could have an impact on the final four teams.
England was upset by Pakistan immediately after its tournament-opening win over South Africa.
"Sri Lanka poses a big threat tomorrow," Moeen said. "At the moment, the top four are there for a reason because they are playing probably the best cricket out of all the teams and most consistent, but there's still a lot of games to go.
"Every game is huge for us and every point that we get is going to be massive — there could be some weather around later in the tournament so we want to make the most of the occasion."
Sri Lanka captain Dimuth Karunaratne said England's batters were playing spin better than any other team at the tournament, and that was forcing some strategic recalculations.
"We have to think out of the box," he said. "We have a couple of ideas, so we need to work on those things in the middle."
Karunaratne, who scored 97 against Australia, said he needed his middle-order batsmen to apply themselves to building big partnerships and his bowlers to keep mixing it up. If they can reproduce the kind of performance that helped Sri Lanka beat India in the Champions Trophy here two years ago, they can reach the semifinals again.
"Definitely," Karunaratne said. "We have the ability to do it. If everyone can lift their mental strength, we can be in the semifinals."