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Moeen’s family — the Alis of Birmingham

BIRMINGHAM:“We’re the best!” says Munir Ali, the patriarch of the Ali clan of Birmingham.

Moeen’s family — the Alis of Birmingham

Munir Ali (left) and some of his family members.



Rohit Mahajan

Tribune News Service

Birmingham, June 3

“We’re the best!” says Munir Ali, the patriarch of the Ali clan of Birmingham.

Now, Munir Ali is a quiet and earnest man, the last man to boast or to indulge in hyperbole. He’s quiet and soft-spoken, and you just know that he’s a very earnest man.

When he says “we’re the best”, there’s no sense of bravado in his bearing and attitude — his words have the ring of confidence and conviction.

Munir was talking about the cricketing families who’ve played the game at the highest level. And he’s right — there are not too many cricketing families that can match his. He is the father of Moeen Ali, the England all-rounder. Two other sons, Kadeer Ali and Omar Ali, are also county cricketers. Nephew Kabir Ali played one Test match for England (picked up five wickets but still dropped, forever), and another nephew, Aatif Ali, also plays county cricket. Kabir and Aatif are the sons of Munir’s twin brother, Shabbir, himself a cricketer and coach. Then there are also Mumtaz Ali and Berham Ali, sons of Munir’s elder brother Mohammed Shaffi Ali.

That’s a lot of top-class cricketers in one family — no wonder Munir is absolutely sure that “we are the best”.

Success at all cost

Munir’s father, Shafait Ali, came over to England from the Kashmir region in 1945, immediately after World War II. Shafait Ali didn’t have time for cricket, for he was too busy making a new life for himself in a new country — he had married an Englishwoman who worked in the same family with him, and now had a family to look after.

Munir got interested in cricket and began to play on the sly, for playing sport — and, thus, “wasting” time that could have been spent studying — was frowned upon. He played league cricket and then got involved with his own career as a psychiatric nurse. When his sons and nephews, in turn, got playing the game, Munir did something remarkable — he gave up his career with the National Health Service to make sure that the boys had the support he didn’t have growing up.

Now Munir is the driving force behind their cricket academy in Birmingham. The Alis make for a very impressive roster of coaches: Kadeer is a batting coach while Kabir and Atif are fast bowling coaches. Omar is a fitness trainer. Mumtaz and Berham are spin bowling specialists. The current England star, Moeen, has a very busy schedule and visits the academy whenever he can.

Anger in 2014

You meet Munir, 62, and you realise that he’s a tough man. Physically, he’s strongly built, but the real power lies in the mind. He’s not easily angered, but there was a time when he found it very difficult to control his temper.

“It happened here, at the Edgbaston ground, in 2014,” says Munir. “England were playing against India. Moeen was playing in his home ground, in front of his own crowd, and he was booed by supporters of the Indian team. The funny part is that they were all British!”

The British Indian fans didn’t like the fact that Moeen was playing for England —when he came out to bat, when he bowled, when he fielded, he was greeted with boos. The fans, clearly, were bigots who brought their focus on stuff that should be a taboo in sport — abuse on the basis of ethnicity and religious belief.

The fact that Moeen sports a flowing beard got some fans started, and soon many other joined the chorus of boos. “I was upset, and I wanted to talk with them, reason with them,” says Munir. “But a friend who was with me sort of controlled me, and he was right because there’s no way one can reason with bigots, especially if they have been drinking.”

But some good came out of the ugly incident. “Many people then called me, came to me, texted me to apologise on behalf of those Indian fans,” says Munir. “High profile people, respected doctors and members of the Indian community told me that they regretted that this had happened.”

“Moeen is now known for the beard that he has,” adds the proud father. “He’s shown that it’s possible to be very religious, live by the teachings of the Prophet, and also play the game at the highest level.”

Moeen grew deeper into religion a bit late, and then guided and inspired the whole family to walk the same path with him. It’s been a very happy journey, says Munir — Moeen is free of the fear of failure, “sleeps like a baby” before matches and is never nervous. “He’s been able to work on becoming the best he can be,” says Munir.

Along with that, he’s made the Ali clan England’s first family in cricket.

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