|Sixth Twenty20 international, Lahore|
|Pakistan 169-6 (20 overs): Babar 87*, Curran 2-26|
|England 170-2 (14.3 overs): Salt 88*, Hales 27|
|England won by eight wickets|
Phil Salt smashed an unbeaten 88 from 41 balls as England stormed to an eight-wicket win over Pakistan in the sixth Twenty20 international.
Chasing 170 for victory in Lahore, Salt bludgeoned his way to a 19-ball half-century – the third fastest by an Englishman in T20 internationals – in a stunning display of hitting as the tourists levelled the series at 3-3 with one to play.
It was a good toss for England captain Moeen Ali to win as a heavy dew made batting that much easier as the game went on, but despite that, the manner in which England knocked off the runs was remarkable.
Salt was at his brutal best in hitting 13 fours and three sixes and England had the luxury of being able to slow down and cruise to their target with 33 balls to spare.
Earlier, Pakistan captain Babar Azam had made an unbeaten 87 from 59 balls and showed all his class but lacked any significant support.
England’s trio of left-seamers – Reece Topley, Sam Curran and David Willey – were the pick of the bowlers and it quickly became apparent the 169-6 they restricted Pakistan to would not be enough.
“The way we batted was outstanding, we almost killed the game off straight away,” said Moeen.
“It just shows if you stick to the process, you don’t have to slog. They were proper shots.
“That was a really impressive performance from everybody. It’s great for the series that it is 3-3, I think it’s been a brilliant series so far. We’re looking for an exciting game in the last one.”
The teams will remain in Lahore for the decider on Sunday (15:30 BST).
Classy Babar matches Kohli record
With Pakistan losing T20 debutant Mohammad Haris and Shan Masood early – and their leading run-scorer in the series Mohammad Rizwan left out – the onus was soon on Babar to take the side to a competitive total.
He anchored the innings to perfection, seemingly managing to play risk-free cricket while also scoring comfortably in excess of a run a ball.
The closest England came to dismissing him came via a run out when he was on 24, with Curran’s shy at the stumps missing its mark.
Promising stands of 47 and 48 with Haider Ali and Iftikhar Ahmed respectively were cut short by Curran, who took 2-26 from his four overs, but Babar could not be budged.
The opener was in complete control and after easing to a 27th T20I fifty from 41 balls, effortlessly lofted the ball back over Richard Gleeson’s head to go past 3,000 runs in the format.
It was Babar’s 81st innings, making him the joint fastest to the milestone, alongside India star Virat Kohli.
As ever, Babar moved through the gears as the innings progressed but maintained all of his elegance even as he upped the ante.
However, despite his best efforts, Pakistan were blown away as England’s top order almost put the game beyond doubt before the end of the powerplay.
Salt makes his case for World Cup selection
While Pakistan’s opening pair have piled on the runs in this series, England’s top order has not fired quite as they would have liked in the first five matches.
However, a blistering opening stand between Salt and Alex Hales showed just how dangerous England can be when things do click.
Salt started as he meant to go on by cutting Mohammad Nawaz for four from the first ball of the chase and 17 balls, seven fours and two sixes later, the fifty partnership was up.
Hales was hitting the ball every bit as cleanly as his partner, nailing Mohammad Wasim for three consecutive fours to end a third over costing 22 runs, before falling to Shadab Khan in the fourth.
There was no let-up from Salt, though. His strength over the years has been through the leg side but there is much more to his game now and he moved smartly around the crease to punish the Pakistan bowlers through the covers and down the ground as well.
By the end of the seventh over, the hundred was up for England with Salt pulling Aamer Jamal over fine leg for six to bring up the milestone.
At that stage, the game was over as a contest and although Salt and Dawid Malan added to Pakistan’s misery with another couple of big overs, the latter’s dismissal led to a comparatively sedate end to the game.
Salt was left to push the winning run into the covers but with the start of the Twenty20 World Cup less than a month away, it is the ferocity of his hitting early in the innings that will give the selectors pause for thought as they deliberate between Salt and Hales for a place in the XI.
“It’s nice timing to do it when the series is in the balance so I’m very happy with the knock,” said Salt.
“I’m very grateful for the backing that I’ve got from my team-mates and the management. It’s very clear the way they want me to play.”