Rain continued to douse Pakistan’s tour of England, but not before Tom Banton thrillingly placed himself in contention for next year’s T20 World Cup.
By making a sparkling 71 off 42 balls out of 109 while he was in the middle, the 21-year-old Banton – given his chance at the top of the order by an injury to Jason Roy – answered Eoin Morgan’s call for his fringe players to step up.
There were five sixes and plenty of outrageous improvisation in an innings which underlined why several good judges have compared him to Kevin Pietersen.
And though England later lost four for 14 in 19 balls to Pakistan’s spinners, before rain ended their innings – and ultimately the match – at 131 for six off 16.1 overs, the performance of Banton meant they could take heart from a gloomy evening in Manchester.
With Roy, Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler all missing this three-match series, England’s next-tier batsmen have a brief window of opportunity to persuade the selectors that they should feature in the back-to-back 20-over World Cups in 2021 in India and 2022 in Australia.
‘When it’s at full-strength, the white-ball team is good at the moment, so I’m probably not going to break into it,’ said Banton. ‘I’m just going to keep trying to score as many runs as possible and put the other guys under pressure.’
His only previous T20 appearances for England came in New Zealand in November, when three innings brought him a top score of 31 and only glimpses of the talent that have made him a favourite with Somerset fans.
And he admitted: ‘I was probably just short of a bit of confidence. They were my first games for England, and I was very nervous. This knock tonight has given me a bit more confidence that I can do it at this level. New Zealand was seven or eight months ago now, and I feel like I’ve grown as a cricketer.’
If he can keep growing at the same rate, England will have quite a player on their hands.
He started slowly after losing his opening partner Jonny Bairstow in the first over, caught low down by left-arm spinner Imad Wasim off his own bowling for two. And Banton might have gone cheaply himself, only for Iftikhar Ahmed to grass a simple chance at slip off the bowling of Shaheen Shah Afridi.
Five at the time, he moved gratefully, but cautiously, to 20 off 19 balls. And with Dawid Malan proceeding at a stately run a ball at the other end, England found themselves a modest 40 for one off seven overs after being invited to bat. It was the kind of start that needed someone to press the accelerator.
Banton, whose big hitting for Somerset has earned him an IPL contract with Kolkata Knight Riders, took responsibility. He slog-swept leg-spinner Shadab Khan’s first ball for six, then ramped seamer Haris Rauf over the wicketkeeper’s head for four – a shot more usually associated with Buttler.
Two more leg-side sixes followed in Shadab’s next over, and not even the run-out of Malan – who chanced a single to backward point that was never there, and trudged off for 23 – could slow Banton’s progress.
Having registered his first one-day international fifty against Ireland earlier in the month, he brought up his maiden T20 international fifty off just 33 balls, and celebrated by hitting Imad over deep midwicket for another six. And there was time for one more six – a cheeky pick-up off his toes over fine leg off Rauf – before he miscued Shadab and was caught at cover.
The trickiness of the surface – Banton described the bounce as ‘tennis-bally’ – was underlined by the struggles of those who followed him.
Morgan was leg-before to Iftikhar’s off-breaks for 14 as he missed a sweep. Then Moeen Ali was caught behind at the second attempt by Mohammad Rizwan for just eight off the bowling of Shadab. When Lewis Gregory, who was preferred to David Willey, was stumped in a flash off Imad, England were in trouble at 123 for six.
If they were grateful for the rain, they were doubly so for the performance of Banton.