Stage set for thrilling decider between England and Pakistan

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London

For England’s cricketers, however, Freedom Day came one day early. Honestly, has there ever been a more on-brand performance than the one rustled up by their batters at Headingley on Sunday? Bowled out for 200 in 19.5 overs, including a riotous denouement of seven wickets in as many overs – the promiscuity of their short-lived strokeplay making the humble mayfly seem a model of celibacy.

It was rollickingly good fun, and as gloriously effective as their hell-for-leather chase at Trent Bridge had been gloriously futile.

Pakistan responded by climbing into the threshing machine with admirable purpose, but they were all thrashed out by the 13th over, thanks largely to England’s own trio of players with Pakistan heritage – Saqib Mahmood, Adil Rashid and Moeen Ali, whose Player-of-the-Match-winning haul of 36 runs at 225.00 and two wickets in three overs was CSK-esque in its effectiveness.

And so to the decider, a day-night affair at Old Trafford, where England can be expected once again to spread the opportunities across their squad, as they take the field for the final time before that preliminary squad needs to be submitted to the ICC ahead of the T20 World Cup this winter.

And even if they cannot get over the line in this contest, to claim their ninth series win in their last 11 T20I campaigns, the gains made by the white-ball squad, both in this leg and in the makeshift ODI campaign before it, have been immeasurable.

Most of all, the sense of collective buy-in is absolute – that every player in the frame for selection recognises and embraces the free-spirited ethos that Eoin Morgan has espoused in the past six years.

Full-throttle cricket might not win them every game, but it’ll lose them far fewer than the safety-first reticence of yore.

As for Pakistan, their response to those indignities in the ODIs has been admirable. At Headingley, they were unable to replicate the landslide of runs that carried them to a hugely cathartic victory at Trent Bridge, but in Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan, they have an opening pairing that can carry any fight, while Shaheen Shah Afridi’s pace and incision from his left-arm line provides an air of menace every time he gets thrown the ball.

They are one of only two teams not to have lost a series to England’s T20I team in the last three years – their 1-1 draw in 2020 was followed by India’s 3-2 win in March – and there’s every reason to believe they’ve got a few haymakers left in them in this campaign.

England (probable): 1 Jason Roy/Jonny Bairstow, 2 Jos Buttler (wk), 3 Dawid Malan, 4 Moeen Ali, 5 Liam Livingstone, 6 Eoin Morgan (capt), 7 Lewis Gregory/Tom Curran, 8 David Willey, 9 Chris Jordan, 10 Adil Rashid/Matt Parkinson, 11 Saqib Mahmood
Pakistan: (probable): 1 Mohammad Rizwan (wk), 2 Babar Azam (capt), 3 Fakhar Zaman, 4 Sohaib Maqsood, 5 Mohammad Hafeez, 6 Azam Khan, 7 Shadab Khan, 8 Imad Wasim, 9 Haris Rauf, 10 Mohammad Hasnain, 11 Shaheen Shah Afridi.—APP

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