Eoin Morgan described this series as a chance for England’s T20 outer circle to join the inner sanctum. Sometimes, though, if you want a job done properly, you may as well do it yourself.
Morgan soon turns 34, but on this evidence is improving with his years. Faced with a daunting target of 196 — more than England had chased to win a 20-over game at home, and more than Pakistan had failed to defend — he hit a brutal 66 off 33 balls to take them to within touching distance.
The job was finished by Dawid Malan, who maintained his excellent record in the format with his seventh score above 50 in 12 innings. But so effectively did Morgan do the heavy lifting that by the time the pair had brought up a century stand for the third wicket, Malan’s contribution was a second-fiddle 34.
This summer has been dominated by the Test-wicket milestones of Stuart Broad and Jimmy Anderson, but Morgan has become a white-ball cricketer of equal stature — a World Cup-winning captain who runs the show on and off the field, and bats with the freedom he demands of his players. Like all the best leaders, he is effortlessly authoritative.
Even so, things might have been different. Jonny Bairstow and Tom Banton put on a brisk 66 for the first wicket, with Bairstow in pugnacious form during his 24-ball 44. But they fell in successive deliveries to the leg-spin of Shadab Khan, and Morgan almost followed — saved only by umpire’s call on impact as Shadab pleaded for his third wicket in four balls.
He never looked back, making light of the 10 an over England needed with a sequence of characteristic sweeps and pick-ups that brought him six fours and four sixes. It was an innings that drained the life from a Pakistan attack which had already lost Mohammad Amir to a hamstring problem after his second over.
The fact that Malan’s unbeaten 54 from 36 balls went under the radar said everything about his captain’s sparkle. One back-foot force over long-off for six off Iftikhar Ahmed was breathtaking. Only another batting failure for Moeen Ali, who scooped a lame sweep to midwicket to depart for a single, and now has 10 runs in four international innings this summer, removed any of England’s gloss. Victory tomorrow will clinch the series 2-0.
Earlier, the Pakistan innings revolved around two men. For Babar Azam, a score of 56 off 44 balls was just another day in the T20 office. His career average of 50 was the world’s highest until Malan overtook him, and is reflected by his No 1 ranking. Here, he showed why.
He pulled the game’s first ball from Saqib Mahmood for four, and barely seemed troubled during an opening stand of 72 with Fakhar Zaman, who eventually perished for 36 trying to heave Adil Rashid’s quicker ball towards Chorlton.
Some of Babar’s placement was sublime, and it came as a surprise — not least to the batsman himself — when he pulled Rashid straight to deep midwicket.
But no sooner had Babar perished than Mohammad Hafeez prospered. He got going with a pull for six off Mahmood, making him the ninth batsman to pass 2,000 runs in Twenty20 internationals, and continued to enjoy himself as England’s attempts at variety became more of a lottery.
Yorkers became full tosses, slower-ball bouncers became hit-me long hops. With the 38-year-old Shoaib Malik keeping the 39-year-old Hafeez company, Pakistan had experience on their side — and England kept serving up gifts.
One chaotic over from Tom Curran, the 16th, cost 23. Bairstow fumbled a run-out chance as the batsmen scampered two, then pinched a third after the ball dribbled out of his gloves with the fielders dozing. Next ball, Curran produced a waist-high full-toss that Hafeez pulled for six. The free hit disappeared for four.
By the time he miscued Curran from the innings’ penultimate delivery, Hafeez had moved to 69 off 36 balls, his highest score in the format for seven years. Pakistan’s eventual 195 for four was also their highest total against England.
None of the bowlers escaped punishment, though Rashid — with two for 32 off his four overs — came closest. Morgan has said before the series that, in an ideal world, England would pick their strongest side, with the T20 World Cup in India a little over a year away.
But the coronavirus has put paid to most plans, leaving the captain with the next-best scenario: a chance to look at the fringe players. Curran, who went for 46, and Mahmood, who cost 38, have both bowled better than this, while Somerset’s Lewis Gregory got through three mixed overs for 22.
In fact, no English seamer enjoyed a better day than David Willey, who is yet to play in this series, but whose left-arm swing looks as likely a wicket-taking option with the new ball as anything in the squad. Then again, as Pakistan discovered, it was not really a day to be a bowler.