Pakistan and England set for knockout flavour ahead of T20 World Cup


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Every time there has been an even number of matches in this series, Pakistan and England have been right. After six intoxicating and wildly entertaining games, neither side has been able to get away with it, and one suspects the final game would have been a decision no matter how many games this series was played.

That’s unusual in a way, because as hard as it is to separate them, these are two completely different T20 sides, and a lot of that has become apparent in the past two weeks. England have the higher ceiling, which has never been more concise than in the sixth T20I, where the full force of the visitors’ batting order within 15 overs devastated Pakistan.

Pakistan’s higher floor, on the other hand, has allowed them to scrape to a level even when most of their batters endure off-days. That could be seen in the fourth and fifth games, when the hosts hit a defensible total and clung to an England side that lacks that credibility at the top.

It might be a little harsh on England that the series is even if the nature of the wins of both sides were compared. England’s triumphs have been mostly blowouts, those games that encapsulate the gap in raw T20 batting prowess between the two sides. Pakistan, meanwhile, has found ways to win victories by leveraging its intangible assets – momentum and pressure in key stages of competitions, and of course their signature unpredictability.

There were certainly elements of fortune in the way Pakistan swung those games in their favor, but no side knows better than them that careers are built at such times.

It’s perhaps ironic that the collectively longest T20I series of them all ultimately boils down to a one-match shootout, but the journey that takes us there has been little less than thrilling. Pakistan found England to be at fault after Pakistan’s tour was met with a punch during the initial Covid-19 outbreak the following year.

But since England arrived in Pakistan, there has been an outpouring of goodwill from both sides, with friendships forged off the pitch and skills matched. Crowded houses have greeted the teams at all six games, and even the presidential-level security flanking England don’t seem to have dampened their enjoyment of the tour.

It’s also perhaps fitting that during a series that has been criticized for failing to prepare conditions that would mimic the surfaces the two sides will face at the T20 World Cup in Australia, it at least ends with a do-or-die- game.

Shape guide

Pakistan LWWLW (last five T20Is completed, most recent first)
England WLLWL

In the spotlight

Haris Rauf has become a true all-phase bowler for Pakistan. In the previous match, where he rested, Pakistan missed him badly in the first two stages, and had England extended the game to a third stage, Pakistan would almost certainly have missed him then. The heroic role Rauf played in Pakistan’s victory in match four, to which bowling coach Shaun Tait referred somewhat pungently in defense of his side’s death bowling, will not be soon forgotten by either side. Returning to the team, as he almost certainly will, he should give the Pakistani bowling squad the shot in the arm they need after their dismantling on Friday.

Pakistan wasn’t the only one to rest their fast bowler on Friday. Mark Wood’s return to England from injury has been skillfully managed, and although he has only played two of the first six games, he has been a central figure in this series. Wood’s average pace in those games was higher than any bowler from either side could handle, and against a top order that has often proved impregnable, Wood has more powerplay wickets in just three overs than any of his teammates. Rauf vs Wood is a mini-match in its own right, one that will likely be fought just as fiercely as the one between the two sides.

Team news

Haider Ali was hospitalized after the last game, so it’s unlikely he’ll be there on Sunday. His absence must make way for Khushdil Shah. Mohammad Rizwan and Rauf are both expected to return, likely in direct exchanges for Mohammad Haris and Shahnawaz Dahani.

Pakistan (probably): 1 Babar Azam (capt), 2 Mohammad Rizwan (wk), 3 Shan Masood, 4 Iftikhar Ahmed, 5 Khushdil Shah, 6 Asif Ali, 7 Mohammad Nawaz, 8 Shadab Khan, 9 Mohammad Hasnain/Aamer Jamal, 10 Mohammad Wasim, 11 Haris Rauf

Neither side trained on Saturday, but with the series at stake, England are likely to line up their strongest side, minus perhaps Jos Buttler. Of course, that should include Wood, while Adil Rashid, who found the series a bit of a struggle, might be left out.

England (probably): 1 Phil Salt (wk), 2 Alex Hales, 3 Dawid Malan, 4 Ben Duckett, 5 Harry Brook, 6 Moeen Ali (capt), 7 Sam Curran, 8 David Willey, 9 Liam Dawson/Adil Rashid, 10 Reece Topley, 11 Mark Wood

Location and conditions

A new pitch is expected for the final game in Lahore, but conditions will again be hot and humid.

Statistics and trivia

  • David Willey is two wickets shy to become the first English left-armed bowler to take 50 T20I wickets, while Rashid needs four more to overtake Chris Jordan as England’s all-time leading wicket taker in the format.
  • Two more wickets for Shadab Khan will make him the second highest T20I wicket taker for Pakistantake him past Umar Gul and Saeed Ajmal, and only behind Shahid Afridi’s 97.
  • Pakistan has never won a multi-game T20I series against England.

Danyal Rasool is a sub editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Danny61000