The roasted vermicelli, seviyan, were tipped into the simmering milk at Moeen Ali’s kitchen in Birmingham. He was out there in Southampton, bowling England to a series triumph and spinning himself back from oblivion. Back home, his family was celebrating. Munir Ali, Moeen’s dad, was ecstatic. “I ate the whole day. Seviyan kheer, Moeen’s favourite.” Someone brought a box of gulab jamuns. Munir gulped that as well. And they made chicken kebabs, Moeen’s item again.
The extended family sat together and watched the highlights. “20 times,” Munir says. His brother, whose garden was dug up and converted into a cricket pitch all those years ago and who once supported the family even as Munir took a break from work to tag his sons all round the country for cricket, called from Pakistan. “Some of my friends from India also called.” Utter delight pervaded the house.
Two days before the game, Moeen didn’t think he would be playing. “He said ‘Dad, I don’t think I am going to play’ and I also didn’t think he would play. It was a surprise he did.” The father, especially, has been restless for a while now about his son’s Test career. He would fret often and would be told by Moeen not to worry and be grateful for the times he has had. But the son made a promise. “Moeen had told me that he will work really hard this summer in county cricket to come back.” Rest was up to Ed Smith, the selector, and Joe Root, the captain.
Both the father and son knew after that first over in India’s first innings that something special could unfold here. He had spun a couple of deliveries from the rough, just about developing then, to Cheteshwar Pujara, who jabbed them away. “When Pujara edged him twice, I was looking forward to him bowling after lunch. That very first over, he was spot on. He had everything under control.” Moeen, too, was similarly convinced after that first over. “He said once he bowled the first over, he knew it was his day.”
India’s tentativeness against Moeen probably helped his case, Munir feels. “I had this feeling that India were probably preoccupied with what he had done four years ago. They were wary of him. I don’t think they had the confidence of using their feet. They were on the back foot, and the ball was gripping and turning.”
Virat Kohli’s wicket, of course, was the moment that turned the chase around and the seviyan must have turned golden brown by then. “Taking Kohli’s wicket was a big, big plus. He could have had him three times, to be honest. As soon as he took Virat out, I knew the game was over.” An excited Munir goes into detailed descriptions about those three times – what the ball did, what Kohli did … you could feel the high-octane thrill and happiness in the man whose life has centred around his sons’ cricket.
The venue Southampton eased the nerves of the Ali’s. “This was the ground where they beat India (last time) and he took six wickets. So, I had an idea that he would do well. He was confident. I just told him to be his normal self. He was full of confidence as he had done well in county matches.”
The father couldn’t sleep in the nights during the game. “In the first innings, he took five. I couldn’t sleep. Just kept watching his bowling over and over again.” Then again, at the end of the match. Munir has believed strongly, sometimes even more than his son, that Moeen was good to play as the first spinner and as a batsman at No. 3. His voice sounds rushed, excited as he talks about his dreams for the season ahead.
“He can play at No. 3, he can bring balance to team. He is the No. 1 spinner in the country, as far as I am concerned.” The proud voice of a father. The voice of the man who was rebuked by his dad for wasting his life on cricket. The voice of redemption and utter bliss. The voice of a man who wants more seviyan and gulab jamuns in the future.