A brave Eoin Morgan decided to rest both Jos Buttler and Joe Root for the first match in the three game T20 series, an odd decision given Buttler struggled to find form before hitting 116 in the last ODI match in the series. The batsman progressed from scoring one run in the opening match of the 50 over series to 11 in the second. The upward spiral continued to an unbeaten 49, alongside James Taylor, in a 117 run unbroken partnership before scoring his record 116 at the end of the series with a confident batting display. With the decision made, Sam Billings replaced Buttler and James Vince came in for Root.
Morgan won the toss and decided to bat with Jason Roy and Alex Hales opening for the Three Lions. In true England style the tourists didn’t make it easy for themselves with Roy, Hales and Moeen Ali all being caught for a combined total of 17 to which all-rounder Ali contributed nothing. Debutant Vince remained at the crease, joined by Morgan who once again had to ignite the fire for a revival at the crease. A steady partnership ensued as the pair looked to rebuild the innings and did that by keeping the score ticking over and scoring at more than one run per ball.
Vince was eventually bowled by Wahab Riaz, trying to allow himself room to play falling nine short of his half century, his departure gave Billings a chance to fill what were now big shoes in the place of Buttler. With 95-4 up on the board and six overs to play, Vince had left the wicketkeeper a platform, one the Kent player thrived on. The favoured on side proved to be a high scoring area with all of his boundaries coming on the leg side, four fours and six maximums alongside reliable partner Morgan propelled England towards a score the bowling attack would be able to protect. As the increased, so did Billings’ confidence, playing two consecutive scoops off of Riaz bearing down at the stumps at 90mph. One of those scoops went for four and the other for six as part of his 24-ball half century. On the last ball of the innings, the batsman was run out for 53 off 26 balls as Pakistan now had to chase 160 for which Morgan’s side lost five wickets in the process. Morgan finished not out, five short of 50 runs as the debutants took centre stage.
As has happened so often on England’s tour of the UAE, Pakistan’s start with the bat hasn’t been too dissimilar from their opposition as the hosts also found themselves three wickets down with only 25 runs posted. Sarfraz Ahmed, Mohammad Hafeez and Rafatullah Mohmand producing 24 runs, Mohmand top scoring with 16 before being caught down the leg side off of Liam Plunkett. The hosts did start to push on as Sohaib Maqsood and Umar Akmal vacated the crease, both hitting a maximum before both batsmen ran to the same end in the pursuit of not being run out, Akmal the unfortunate batsman in this case. His dismissal was the first of three wickets for only one run in another lacklustre turn of events that was slowly handing the first match to England, Shahid Afridi was caught for a duck and Maqsood (24) stumped off Ali.
The tail dug in and didn’t make life easy for the bowling attack, Anwar Ali, Sohail Tanvir and Riaz all producing scores of around 20 with Riaz and Tanvir particularly troubling Morgan’s bowlers. The pair score 43 runs at about 10 an over with 19 needed off of the last over. Riaz hit down the ground and was caught and last man Imran Khan was caught behind as Reece Topley saw off the threat of the tail end as Pakistan fell short with 146. Topley produced figures of 3-24 while Plunkett had the best figures, taking the same amount of wickets for three less runs as both bowlers bowled out.
As the series progressed, the tighter each game finished with the visitors narrowly claiming a three run win for the loss of eight wickets in the penultimate fixture. Vince, once again, was among the runs while Plunkett took another three wickets, this time at the expense of 33 runs. With the first game ending in victory, Morgan rested himself along with Ali, Chris Jordan and Topley to use the whole squad as Butler and Root returned alongside Chris Woakes and David Willey. With Morgan not in the squad, the side needed a new captain in the form of Buttler in the usual captain’s absence.
Roy and Hales needed to start well to allow the middle order to play with a bit of freedom, without having to build an innings. Their steady start gave England the chance to play more safely without the need for the bigger strokes like Vince in the first match but it was the batsman who once again delivered with the bat alongside Roy and Buttler who scored 29 and 33 respectively. Vince’s 38 was the top score in a top five that delivered a more balanced total than the game before with Billings less successful second time out with 11 having been dismissed by a piece of fielding epitomising the standard of the cricket. Akmal was unable to gather Billings’ shot at first attempt, the power nearly taking the fielder over the boundary, he threw the ball up in the air to allow himself to regain his balance and regather the ball, in doing so Akmal sent Billings walking. With 12 more runs than the day before, 172-8, Buttler was confident his side would finish the job which they did, but it wasn’t without a late scare from Afridi.
Pakistan produced a start similar to their opposition, steady and consistent with each batsman scoring around the 20 mark. However the lower order struggled to maintain the trend and the game slowly swayed in Buttler’s favour until Afridi entered the fray at 120 with 20 balls remaining. Some big hitting from the batsman, including three sixes, took Pakistan within 25 when he was dismissed by Woakes and the other danger man in Sarfraz followed suit soon after being bowled by Woakes, playing the ball onto his stumps, as Buttler oversaw the win in his first game as captain of the national side. Pakistan fell three runs short and needed a win in Sharjah to avoid a series whitewash.
A super over was needed in Sharjah to decide Pakistan’s fate to avoid a winless T20 series in a close fought game where neither side could be separated in the 20 overs. Hales’ unimpressive displays from the opening position warranted the batsman dropping out of the side, Vince moved up the order and Morgan came back into the side as well as Jordan in place of Plunkett.
England got off to the worst possible start as Roy received a golden duck in the final match, facing the first ball from debutant Aamer Yamin who pinned the batsman in front of his stumps for LBW. Root came to the crease earlier than expected but most importantly stayed there alongside Vince, scoring 32 in 22 balls including a six and four fours before Afridi hit the stumps and closed his hands the very next ball as Ali drove the ball back at the spinner to leave for England’s second golden duck of the game. As the tourists started to buckle, Woakes nearly became the next victim, Anwar dropping the all-rounder at third man. The fielder would have regretted the decision next over as Woakes hit Anwar for two sixes as he bowled from the other end to reach 37 of 24 balls. In a poor performance with the bat, both Vince and Woakes saved their side’s blushes taking the score from 86-6 to 146-7 and when Vince left at 152-8 ,as both fell in the last over, their partnership would prove ever so important, setting a score of 154-8.
Pakistan’s top order produced nothing, literally, finding themselves 11-3, Willey taking the early wickets with Ahmed Shehzad bowled for four runs and Mohmand dismissed for LBW with nothing to show for his one ball at the crease. Malik’s revival was nothing short of heroic with Afridi also playing a big part in the host’s fight towards victory. Malik entered at 9-2 with Afridi joining him at 65-5, the pair contrasted each other so well, Afridi hitting big with three sixes and Malik staying alongside him keeping the score ticking over. When Afridi was dismissed for Willey’s third wicket of the day with a slower ball, Malik stayed at the crease and increasingly became more dangerous to the bowlers.
Tanvir and Malik remained at the crease in the final over with 11 runs needed. Tanvir hit Woakes for six but Malik’s tenure at the crease ended as Billings caught the danger man with Pakistan needing two to win off the last ball. A bye from the final delivery sent the game to the super over, six balls for each team to score as many runs as possible with the ability to adjust your batting order with three batsmen chosen and one bowler for each side. Jordan, the most expensive England bowler, was given the responsibility of limiting Afridi and Akmal to as few runs as possible by bowling in the block hole. To many, the surprise was the consistency he produced considering the varied length in the game, allowing Pakistan only one run and two leg byes, dismissing Akmal on the final delivery.
Afridi was chosen to protect the three runs accumulated and nearly achieved that feat with Buttler and Morgan picking up four runs from five balls, Morgan scoring three and Buttler scoring one run, avoiding being run out on the second by Anwar who failed to cleanly pick up the throw from the fielding team.
England travel to Durban on Saturday 26th December as they tour South Africa in late 2015 into 2016.
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