With a mis-hit shot that squirmed past the wicketkeeper and away for four, Sam Curran brought England’s eighth game against Pakistan in little more than a month, and their T20 World Cup preparations, to an appropriately messy conclusion.
Played in an eerie, echoey, empty stadium, an atmosphere reminiscent of the peak Covid sporting hellscape, this was a match of occasionally chaotic running, sometimes hapless fielding and frequently wild hitting, a game of freebies and second chances. But by winning by six wickets, with 26 balls remaining, England extended the positive momentum which built across their recent series against Pakistan and Australia. As Jos Buttler said after the game: “I think everything we wanted to get out of today we did.”
England had made it clear that they would have preferred not to have played this game at all, but for Liam Livingstone at least it was important. Nearly two months after his last appearance the 29-year-old returned from ankle injury to contribute with both bat and ball, surely doing enough to secure his place in the side to face Afghanistan on Saturday. If England choose to play a bowler-heavy side in that game, which is believed to be Buttler’s preference, his return would come at the expense of Harry Brook, a decision rendered more difficult by the 23-year-old’s continued excellence – he batted beautifully here, scoring 45 off 24 balls.
Livingstone, meanwhile, was not only England’s most economical bowler, he then scored 28 off 16, memorably sending one mighty six onto the stadium roof (and also, admittedly, benefiting from two calamitous drops in as many balls). This was a night when Livingstone’s luck was in – as proved when, after his first couple of deliveries, he signalled with windmilling arms for Sam Curran to move round from deep square leg to deep midwicket, and Shan Masood dutifully lifted the very next delivery into his hands. “It was great to see him play so well,” Buttler said. “He’s been hitting the ball so well in the nets and we know what a dangerous player he is, so I’m sure he’ll take a lot from that outing.”
It said much about Pakistan’s approach to this slightly rain-abbreviated game that they opened the batting with Haider Ali – for the first time since February 2021 – and Shan Masood – for the first time ever. Neither Babar Azam nor Mohammad Rizwan, who only injury or an act of God could stop from opening when their World Cup campaign begins against India on Sunday, were in the line-up. But, however unfamiliar they were with their role, Haider and Masood started the game impressively.
Ben Stokes again opened the bowling, having done so for the first time in his career in the third and final T20 against Australia on Friday. The link between him opening the bowling and it raining remains unproven, but the evidence is mounting. After six overs Pakistan were 66-1 and motoring. But they slowed when England turned to spin in the middle overs, and eventually reached 160 in their 19 overs.
England’s response took precisely the opposite form, starting soberly before eventually running wildly out of control. Stokes clubbed an 18-ball 36, with three sixes and a couple of fours, but it was only after Livingstone’s dismissal that they reached top speed, as Sam Curran joined Brook for a freewheeling partnership of 59 runs in 25 balls.
Earlier Australia had conjured defeat from the jaws of victory against India, a match made memorable by its preposterous conclusion. Put in to bat India scored 186 for seven, with KL Rahul and Suryakumar Yadav both hitting half-centuries, but Australia controlled their run chase excellently, and with an over to go required just 11.
Mohammed Shami’s first two balls went for two apiece, but then Virat Kohli brilliantly caught Pat Cummins on the long-on boundary and Shami first ran out Ashton Agar then clean bowled both Josh Inglis and Kane Richardson to seal a ludicrous win. Australia will not be alone in being grateful that these matches will not count towards official statistics but if they wanted anything from the game it was for Aaron Finch to hint at a return to form and his 54-ball 76 did that and more.