Spirits high as Pakistan look ahead to last three England T20s

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England have had upper hand in series, but scoreline locked at 2-2 after Karachi thriller

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The deafening acclaim within the National Stadium on Sunday night told the tale of the tour so far. Even allowing for the emotion and excitement of England ending their 17-year absence in Pakistan, there had been fears beforehand that a seven-match T20I series was simply too much to take in, but they were emphatically scotched by the denouement of Game Four in Karachi.

Haris Rauf’s raucous, raw pace bowling, and Shan Masood’s dead-eyed underarm from mid-on, combined to square the series in a game that England won, then lost, then won and lost again – much like their record in the series as a whole, in fact. And the upshot is that part two of the tour, in Lahore, will witness at least two live games out of three, and maybe even the sort of winner-takes-all scenario in Sunday’s seventh game that can serve as the perfect preparation for next month’s T20 World Cup.

That, at any rate, is the spin that England are already putting on a series in which they seem, on paper and even for long passages of each fixture, to be by far the better, more rounded outfit – particularly with the bat. Yet they have twice been pegged back in contrastingly remarkable fashions, by ten wickets on Thursday, and then by two runs in Sunday’s cliffhanger.

“Yes, we would love to have won, but I think when you head into a World Cup, you want to play against good opposition in tough games and it’s been every bit of that,” Matthew Mott, England’s head coach, said on Sunday night. For his own peace of mind, however, Mott will want this week to be the one in which his white-ball team secures their first series win of the post-Eoin Morgan era, after being knocked down a peg by India and South Africa in the summer just gone.

England are at least getting a better idea of where they need to tighten up their gameplans. For instance Moeen Ali, the stand-in captain, did not bowl a single over of his offspin on Sunday night, given that his 21-run over against Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan in Thursday’s thrashing had been the moment in which their spectacular 203-run stand went into overdrive. And by the time their subsequent stand of 97 had been mitigated by Pakistan’s sub-par 20-over total of 166 for 4, it seemed that England had the game at their mercy.

In response, however, their own batting proved a touch too loose for the occasion. It was to England’s credit that they could recover from a scoreline of 14 for 3 after 12 balls and take the game so deep – and with Harry Brook and Ben Duckett in such thrillingly free-flowing form, the likes of Jos Buttler, Liam Livingstone, Jonny Bairstow and Ben Stokes have not been greatly missed in the collective line-up. But equally, Pakistan’s strength remains in its fast bowling, and as Mark Wood proved for England in his solitary outing of the tour to date, genuine pace is not an attribute against which many liberties can be taken.

Wood might well be back in contention for this contest, as England seek a balance between match fitness and workload as he continues to return from an elbow injury, but Buttler will not be risked. His calf tear, sustained during the Hundred, remains a concern with just under a month until the start of the World Cup, and with three T20Is in Australia to come before England’s opening night against Afghanistan on October 22.—Agencies

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