With the minimum of fuss and an absence of tension England pottered to another straightforward victory over Pakistan. They won by four wickets with 15 balls to spare; no doubt a source of joy to diehard supporters of the national side but for those who came to Lord’s in pursuit of rollicking entertainment on their annual day out, there may have been a sense of anticlimax. The outcome was all too predictable once Pakistan’s first three batsmen had been dispatched within 15 minutes of the start.
England were clinical in the field and enough of their batsmen bedded in to ensure a relatively stress-free pursuit of a modest target. Pakistan, thanks to a skilful, gutsy century from Sarfraz Ahmed, mustered 251 but that never seemed enough.
Joe Root, at his most pragmatic – in between the odd delicious cover drive – was the chief helmsman but there was also a welcome contribution from Eoin Morgan, who hit his first half-century in one-day internationals since England played Pakistan in Abu Dhabi last November.
Morgan paddled away against the spinners with sweeps both reverse and orthodox and along with Root he made light of the early loss of the openers – Jason Roy lasted just two balls, Hales 24 – in a partnership of 112. Morgan was bowled for 68 by Imad Wasim when making room to cut, which allowed Ben Stokes to add a bit of panache to a downbeat day by smacking 42 from 30 balls. Root compiled a dutiful 89, which, to his disgust, ended when England were still 12 runs short of their target.
Without Sarfraz there would have been no game at all. He arrived at the crease with the score at two for three. He left 200 runs later, having contributed 105 from 130 balls. Sarfraz is not a modern power player but he is creative. Many runs came from deft deflections on either side of the wicket; often he shimmied down the pitch before the bowler had released the ball, seeking to clip runs on the leg side. There were only six boundaries in his innings but he was never becalmed.
The severity of the situation when he arrived at the crease demanded some discretion as well as a cool head and Sarfraz remained calm and composed throughout until he had reached three figures. Having glanced a leg-side delivery from Liam Plunkett to fine leg he celebrated, without inhibition and for a very long time. He had been so restrained that this was a bit of a surprise – like seeing granny jiving.
Sarfraz is yet another modern wicketkeeper, whose strongest suit is, in fact, batting. As with so many of his peers that extra bit of freedom which comes with all-rounder status, enhances him as a batsman.
He came to the wicket with England’s two Ws holding sway. Chris Woakes’s fourth delivery was down the leg side but Sami Aslam, selected ahead of Mohammad Hafeez, was surprised by the bounce. He was given not out but England’s review was vindicated when the third umpire decided that the ball had just brushed the batsman’s gloves.
There was absolutely no doubt about the dismissal of Sharjeel Khan. Mark Wood propelled the ball at 91mph and a millisecond later the off stump was cartwheeling towards the slip cordon – a sight that must have enhanced Wood’s chances of touring this winter whatever the format of the game. Then Woakes found the outside edge of Azhar Ali’s bat and all but the most partisan of fans were fearful for their day out at Lord’s.
Babar Azam was briefly adventurous; he produced a flurry of off-side boundaries, which confirmed that this 21-year-old is blessed with the gift of timing and a bright future in a Pakistan lineup that needs some spark. Then he was bowled for 30 by Liam Plunkett via an ugly combination of inside edge and pads.
Thereafter Sarfraz’s only support came from Shoaib Malik (28), who edged a short delivery from Wood to Buttler, and Imad Wasim, who willed himself to an unbeaten 63 from 70 balls.
Imad initially scored his runs from a selection of slices intermingled with some hearty thumps but no one in the Pakistan camp was worried that elegance had been sacrificed for efficacy.
Pakistan had more difficulty coping with England’s pacemen than their spinners. Both Plunkett and Wood surpassed 90mph and Woakes was not far behind them. Moreover, all three knew where the ball was going. Currently this trio is a great asset for captain Morgan, whose options will be greatly enhanced once Stokes is fully fit – assuming they have the good sense not to bring another batsman into their XI when Stokes can bowl.
Currently England’s fast bowling looks strong and on Saturday the England and Wales Cricket Board announced measures designed to sustain some of those precious assets. They are taking precautions with their senior fast bowlers. Neither Stuart Broad nor Jimmy Anderson will be permitted to play for their counties in the final stages of an intriguing County Championship season. Broad has an ankle problem while Anderson needs more rehabilitation on his right shoulder.
An ECB statement explained: Both players have managed their injuries through the summer and a break from cricket is needed to best prepare the Test opening bowling pair for England’s winter campaign that begins this October in Bangladesh.
So the assumption is that both these senior citizens will be chosen for the Bangladesh tour as well as the one that follows in India but there is the possibility that their partnership might be severed in the subcontinent as they alternate in a side that are scheduled to play seven Tests in two months.
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