Moeen Ali is likely to be England's sole slow bowler in the first Test against West Indies in Barbados Getty

After Moeen Ali had taken ten wickets against South Africa at Lord's in July 2017, coach Trevor Bayliss confusingly maintained in the post-match press conference that Moeen was still the team's second spinner, with left-arm all-rounder Liam Dawson, someone who hardly bowls in red-ball cricket for his county, the team's number one. Two Tests later, Dawson was out of the team and Moeen, understandably, kept his place.

If that seems nonsensical, it is because it is. Moeen has been England's number one spinner since Graeme Swann's retirement during the 2013 Ashes series in Australia yet England have, from time to time, used the psychological ploy of telling the all-rounder he is, in fact, their second slow bowler, in a bid to take an element of pressure off. That has been the party line even when Moeen has been the only spinner in the final eleven.

Sometimes, as in that South Africa series in 2017, it has worked, bringing out the best in him. But at other times, such as during last winter's Ashes, when Moeen had been the main man, it hasn't. Yet now, at 31, with 163 Test wickets to his name and after a successful return to the Test team in the home series against India last year - with 30 wickets at 23.10 since - Moeen is finally ready to embrace the tag of England's number one spin bowler.

The timing is good as he is likely to be England's sole slow bowler in the first Test against West Indies in Barbados beginning on Wednesday after having Jack Leach and Adil Rashid for company on the recent Sri Lankan tour. "To be honest I'm not too fussed [about being the only spinner] any more," he said at Kensington Oval. "Before I was but now I just try and focus on myself.

"The three of us worked well together in Sri Lanka but if the responsibility was on me, I'd happily do it. I'd be fine with it. I can't hide behind saying I'm the second spinner. I need to face it, deal with it. I've done it plenty of times before and I feel like I'm getting better."

It's easy to forget that Moeen was a batsman who bowled for much of his early county career. As a result, he is, even now, still learning with the ball and it is mightily impressive that he has already bagged 163 Test wickets. That total has seen him overtake many high-class England spinners such as John Emburey and Fred Titmus and he sits 21st on England's all-time Test wicket-takers list.

With plenty of time left in his career, Moeen is likely to overtake more of those above him. "When you hear about the records and the people you've passed, it gives you confidence to know you've passed some really good spinners for England," he said. "I feel like I'm at the best age now. I'm 31 and I've played quite a bit for England. I feel I am getting, as a spinner, towards my best."

While there have been plenty of ups and downs for Moeen since he made his Test debut in 2014 against Sri Lanka, it was at the Kensington Oval, in 2015, where he thinks he has bowled the worst for England as they succumbed to a three-day defeat, drawing a series they should have won. Moeen went at five runs an over in the second innings as West Indies coasted to what looked like a tricky chase with relative ease.

Now returning to the ground for the first Test of this tour, Moeen is keen to right that wrong. "I've bowled poorly a lot of times," he admitted. "But that was probably the worst I ever bowled in an England shirt and I want to put that right. I'd just come back from injury, I was straight back into the side after the World Cup and I was the only spinner. I bowled badly."

Despite the improvement in his bowling, Moeen's batting is still a key asset to this England team too but after a brief period at number three against India and in Sri Lanka, he will return to the middle order for this tour, possibly batting as low as eight with Jonny Bairstow having cemented his place at number three with a hundred in England's last Test in Colombo. For now, that suits Moeen just fine.

"At this particular time, in this moment, I don't have the patience," he said. "I have tried to bat longer and it doesn't mean I can't, but I feel more useful to the side coming in down the order. We need a proper No. 3 in the Ashes and that's more important."