An absolutely nail-biting, high-scoring thriller of a 3rd T20I between England and Pakistan saw the visitors scrape through by 5 runs in their last match of the tour, successfully defending a total of 190 runs despite a valiant effort from Moeen Ali towards the end.
England struck early having elected to bowl once again. Moeen Ali was given the new ball from the Brian Statham end to get rid of Fakhar Zaman, the only Pakistani left-hander in their top-order, and he succeeded in doing so. He sneaked a straight one through the Pakistani opener’s bat and pad and found the sticks.
19-year-old Haider Ali walked in and immediately hit the off-spinner out of the attack, mowing Moeen over long-on with a slog sweep. His partner, Pakistan captain Babar Azam got in on the act as well, finding the fence on three consecutive occasions with a thump through long-off, a dismissive pull, and a dab past third man in Saqib Mahmood’s second over.
Alas, Babar, despite finding such good momentum to start with, yet again failed to capitalize. Tom Curran, introduced in the 5th over, got one to nip back in off the surface, and the Pakistan skipper, trying to play inside the line, played all around it and saw his stumps rearranged.
The youngest member of the Pakistan XI was joined by the oldest, and the duo started to build on what turned out to be an entertaining partnership, to say the least. While Hafeez sat back and proceeded to settle in, Haider Ali, playing his first International Cricket match, went after the England bowling.
ALSO READ: England v Pakistan, 3rd T20I, Old Trafford – England look to seal sixth consecutive T20I series win
That was until Hafeez decided to get in on the act. The 4th and 5th ball of the 11th over from Adil Rashid, bowling from the pavilion end, disappeared over the shorter deep mid-wicket boundary, courtesy two sumptuous, eye-pleasing slog-sweeps from the 39-year-old.
While Gregory, who went for 19 in his first two overs, tried to keep things in control in the following over, he could not prevent young Haider from dispatching the final ball of the over to the mid-wicket fence and bring up his fifty.
Hafeez, too, reached the same milestone in a couple of overs. Making up for the time he took he settle in, he first launched Curran over the cow-corner boundary, following that up next over with an elegant hit over the sightscreen off Rashid, and three balls later, he was holding up his bat like a bottle and subtly pumping his fist after sweeping the leg-spinner through square leg for four more.
Chris Jordan was brought back into the attack, and he managed to restore some parity to the innings with his best skill. A searing, reverse-swinging yorker was good enough to perpetrate Haider in, as the youngster saw his off-stump knocked flat on the ground.
Hafeez played anchor from thereon, aided by strike rotation and the odd boundary or two from Shadab Khan, who was promoted up the order to keep the run-rate from dipping. That was until Shadab was dismissed by Jordan, who did well to recover after conceding a six first ball of the over, the 19th, to Hafeez. He could have had two in two, only for Tom Curran to drop a skier from Imad Wasim at long-on.
Saqib Mahmood ensured that Pakistan, despite being in a good position to exceed 200, does not get there for a second successive game. He conceded only 9 in the last over as Pakistan finished on 190, with Hafeez equalling his highest T20I score.
Defending 191, Pakistan could not have asked for a better start after Shaheen Afridi knocked over Jonny Bairstow for a duck with an absolute jaffer, a yorker so quick that it crashed onto the base of the off-stump by the time Bairstow was going through his shot.
The ploy to bowl Imad Wasim in the powerplay, as has been the case for Pakistan throughout their run of being number one in the T20 rankings in the past few years before falling off, certainly did not start off well. Tom Banton, who seemed like a man on a mission after the departure of Bairstow, drove, slogged, and reverse swept him for four fours over two successive overs.
Malan got some width and smashed the Swansea-born left-arm spinner through cover later in the 4th over, but Imad had the last laugh. After some encouraging words and advice from behind the stumps, Imad came round the wicket to the left-hander and bowled flat on the stumps. Malan, trying to clear the enormous mid-wicket boundary, was brilliantly caught by a leaping Fakhar Zaman.
The wicket against the run of play did not bother Banton, who continued on his merry way. His partner, Eoin Morgan, who had a comic tussle with Haris Rauf after both came across each other while on either side of a run out situation, stayed away from strike for 3 overs after walking in.
A six from the England captain off Shadab’s leg-break, despite not entirely getting to the pitch of the ball, was followed by the last thing England needed at that stage, a needless run out. Morgan made some width, cut hard to cover and set off, where his opposite number produced a monumental, acrobatic save.
Banton was not too keen on the run, screaming his disapproval towards it, but Morgan only found that out when he was in the middle of the pitch and had nowhere to go. The ball was swiftly returned to the keeper’s end, and an ecstatic Sarfaraz, playing his first International game on this tour, figuratively smacked the bails to…Wales, kicking a stump over in the process.
Going into this game, Moeen Ali had been going through the longest barren run of scores in International Cricket. His case was certainly not helped by Banton’s dismissal five balls after his arrival to the crease, leg-before to Haris Rauf 4 short of a half-century.
ALSO READ: England v Pakistan, 2nd T20I, Old Trafford – Captain Morgan, Malan hit fifties to guide England to 1-0 lead
Sam Billings joined Moeen and with the two middle-order batsmen, both in dire need for runs, England had to start over with the building of momentum. The bad balls were dismissed to the fence by Billings, as he took on the role of the aggressor.
Pakistan had a lucrative opportunity to get Moeen after the left-hander ran past a full toss from Imad Wasim, but Sarfaraz just could not gather the ball cleanly. Sarfaraz was guilty of leaking four byes away as well in Imad’s following over, letting another full toss go through his legs.
It has been said by many that one needs a slice of luck to return to form, and it could not have been more apt a saying for Moeen Ali today. A hoick for four through mid-wicket off Shaheen Afridi was followed by the type of six that has ended bad patches with the bat for Moeen before. Having received the ball in the slot, Moeen cleared his front leg, and beautifully lofted the ball through the line over the ropes at long-off.
The departure of Billings next over, caught at third man by Imad off Wahab Riaz, meant that Moeen had to bat till the end to secure a series win. The equation of 62 off 30 balls after Riaz’s four-run over was brought down to 42 off 24, as Moeen Ali tucked into Shadab Khan’s leg-break with three towering sixes.
It seemed like the game was England’s to lose after Moeen, having reached his fifty, carved a yorker through backward point for four of Shaheen, as the hosts brought the equation down to 20 off the last two overs. A match-winning penultimate over from the experienced Wahab Riaz, who produced some more brilliance in the field to run Jordan out with a direct hit, following that up by beating the rampant Moeen for pace and inflicting a leading edge that was pouched by Wahab himself, completely turned the match towards the Men in Green.
It was down to the rookie, Haris Rauf, to close out the innings with 17 required off the last over with the well-set batsman back in the hut. He did his job perfectly in the first four deliveries, conceding 5 runs by nailing his yorkers, before opting for an off-cutter for the penultimate delivery, which was thumped over the cover boundary by Tom Curran, sending jitters through the Pakistan camp.
Thankfully for them, there was no encore to that. Haris closed the innings out with a wide yorker at express pace to which Tom Curran had no answer, and Pakistan managed to avoid a fourth T20I series defeat out of their last five.
Pakistan 1st Innings 190/4 (20 Overs)
Hafeez 86*, Haider 54, Jordan 2/29
England 2nd Innings 185/8 (20 Overs)
Moeen Ali 61, Banton 46, Riaz 2/26
Pakistan won by 5 runs, series finishes level at 1-1
Player of The Match: Mohammad Hafeez
Player of The Series: Mohammad Hafeez