It was on June 28 that Pakistan arrived on these pandemic-plagued shores and entered the unknown of a biosecure bubble for the sake of cricket. Two months on, as they prepare to finally leave it, few could begrudge them this victory.
After a 1-0 defeat in a rain-decimated Test series, and trailing by the same scoreline in this T20 run, the tourists finally had something concrete to show for their sacrifice as they triumphed by five runs in a thriller at Old Trafford, which went down to the final ball.
Nineteen-year-old Haider Ali made a brilliant half-century on his international debut, but it was two old-timers, Mohammad Hafeez and Wahab Riaz, who were the match-winners.
Hafeez struck 86 as Pakistan scored 190/4 before Wahab, making his first appearance of the tour, bowled a brilliant, double-wicket penultimate over to halt England just as they looked set to complete another monster chase.
When Eoin Morgan won the toss and opted to bowl he would have been looking for two of the things that England’s white-ball displays have been missing this summer; powerplay wickets, and some, at any time, from Moeen Ali. In the second over he got both as Moeen bowled Fakhar Zaman with his first ball, and it would not be the last time the all-rounder showed signs of a timely return to form ahead of the upcoming series against Australia.
That brought Haider to the crease and he immediately showed the kind of X-factor that lit up the Pakistan Super League this year and made you wonder how we hadn’t seen him earlier in this series as he walloped his second ball in international cricket for six.
Babar Azam was quickly into his rhythm, too, striking three boundaries off Saqib Mahmood’s second over, so it was a big relief when Tom Curran sent him on his way for 21 with a fuller delivery soon after his introduction to the attack.
By the end of the powerplay Haider had 22 off just 10 balls but the tempo needed lifting. Hafeez, who scored a terrific 69 in Sunday’s defeat, picked up where he left off and hit Lewis Gregory – already dropped for the Australia series – for a colossal six over the long boundary off the bowler’s first delivery.
Banton and Malan looking to stake a claim for regular England roles
Hafeez took the tourists to three figures with back-to-back slog sweep sixes to the short side of the ground off Rashid, before Haider became the first Pakistani to hit a half-century on T20i debut, reaching the landmark off just 28 balls. He was eventually bowled by a terrific yorker from Chris Jordan for 54 but by then Hafeez had reached a fifty of his own and kicked on again.
Haider’s fine start to life at this level may end up the most positive take away from the entire series for Pakistan, but Hafeez, 20 years his senior, made the most meaningful contribution in the short-term, eventually finishing on a career-best 86 not out.
Jonny Bairstow was the only member of England’s top three assured of his place in the side ahead of Friday’s first T20 against Australia and it was just as well as he was bowled for a duck by a wonderful Shaheen Afridi yorker as the hosts began their chase.
That left Dawid Malan and Banton in the middle once more. The former stuttered out of the blocks but just looked to be finding his groove, striking a four through extra cover, when he was brilliantly caught on the boundary by Fakhar and had to walk for seven.
Banton on the other hand, wasted little time in unveiling his array of shots, including a couple of delightful reverse sweeps for four. He was motoring along until making his first error from the non-striker’s end, rejecting a committed Morgan’s call for a single as he spotted Babar make a terrific diving stop on the circle and instead barbecuing his in-form skipper. Just five balls later he was also trudging back to the pavilion, trapped lbw by Haris Rauf on review having racked up 46 off 31, as England were reduced to 69/4.
Sam Billings and Moeen were charged with rebuilding and did so in sensible fashion, with a partnership of 57 before the former was caught down at third man.
Moeen had already moved into a gear we’d been yet to see from him this summer – his previous four innings had brought just ten runs in total – taking ten off Shaheen’s first two deliveries after the quick’s return to the attack.
But it was in the 16th over, bowled by Shadab Khan, that the Worcestershire man really brought England back into the game as he clattered three sixes. His half-century came off just 25 balls, and even as Lewis Gregory and Chris Jordan fell around him, he looked on course to take England home. That was until Wahab struck, snaring him caught-and-bowled for 61, and conceding just three runs from the 19th over.
That left England what looked an impossible task, eventually needing 12 off two, only for Haris to remarkably bowl a slower-ball with the penultimate delivery which Curran dispatched into the stands. There was no late twist though, as he recovered with a dot to send Pakistan home with a deserved win.