In the end the fifth game of this series came down to whether or not Moeen Ali could hit 15 runs off the final over. England were chasing only 145, but it was a steamy evening under lights in Lahore, on a skiddy, tricky pitch, and aside from Moeen, none of their batsmen were able to get comfortable in conditions that felt very different to the ones they had experienced in Karachi last week.
Moeen, though, had managed to drag the game out and, thanks to a miscalculation on Babar Azam’s part, found himself facing Aamir Jamal, a 26-year-old debutant, with six balls to go and the match on the line.
At least, it seemed like a miscalculation before Jamal started bowling. The first two deliveries were full, and fast, and Moeen refused to take singles off either of them. The third was a wide. Moeen caught the fourth, which disappeared for six. But the fifth and sixth were right back where they needed to be, and it was all Moeen could do to squeeze the first of them away for a single. That meant David Willey needed to hit a six off his very first delivery to tie the scores and he did not manage it.
There had, it needs to be said, been a lot of brainless batting before all that. In the first five overs Phil Salt, Alex Hales and Ben Duckett were all caught midway to the deep. The silly dismissals were as thick as the flies that filled the night skies. Some of them thicker. After that, Pakistan’s three spinners throttled England’s middle order.
“Today was our most disappointing game with the bat, for sure,” Moeen said afterwards. “I just felt like we needed one partnership, 60 or 70 runs would have won us the match, but we couldn’t get it.”
It looked like England had picked their strongest XI yet, too. Dawid Malan, San Curran and Mark Wood were all back, and so was Chris Woakes, who last turned out for England in the third Test against West Indies in March.
England won the toss and Woakes slipped right back into his old role of opening the bowling. He, Curran, Wood and Willey split eight wickets between them. Only Adil Rashid, who conceded 41 in his four overs, struggled to make an impression. It appeared to be a seamer’s pitch, until Pakistan started bowling on it.
Shadab Khan, who was one of three players Pakistan brought in to their team, gave a lesson in how to go about bowling spin on the surface in the second half of the game, when he delivered four overs for 25, and took a key wicket, Malan lbw for 36, with one that shot straight on.
Wood was the best of England’s quicks. He took wickets in each of his first three overs, Babar caught on the boundary, Haider Ali caught and bowled off the top edge, and Asif Ali, bowled with a yorker. He had figures of three for 10 before conceding a further 10 runs from his final six deliveries.
In between, Willey, who had his best game on tour thus far, had Shan Masood caught off a slower ball, and then had Iftikhar Ahmed caught at point. By the time Shadab and Mohammad Nawaz had contrived a couple of calamitous run-outs, Pakistan were a droopy 106 for seven off 14 overs.
Mohammad Rizwan was still going though. He was dropped by Hales, again, when he was on nine, and went on to make 63 off 46 balls. It was his fourth score above 50 in five innings. Rizwan, who is the top of the ICC’s T20 batting rankings, seemed to be playing a different game to everyone else. The best of his innings were the three glorious sixes he hit, one over midwicket off Willey, another down the ground off Rashid, the last pulled square off Wood.
After Rizwan was caught off a full toss, the last pair put on another 14 runs. It turned out to be the difference between the teams, although it should not have been.
Rizwan was almost run out as well, but Curran’s throw hit him in the small of the back as he was running. The blow meant he was unable to keep wicket in the second innings, but it is only a minor injury and he will be back for the sixth match of the series on Friday.
There is more concern about the fast bowler Naseem Shah, who had been taken to hospital overnight with pneumonia. It is touch and go whether he will be fit for the warmup matches before the World T20.
Of course the local crowd were not worrying about that. It had been another entertaining game, in another full stadium. From the look on his face as he sat in the Pakistan Cricket Board’s box even the US ambassador to Pakistan, Donald Blome, seemed to enjoy it.
He had better luck than the former president Dwight Eisenhower, who once sat through a day of Test cricket here in Pakistan when Australia were on tour in 1959 and saw Pakistan score just 104 runs in a full day’s play.