A dramatic batting collapse from Pakistan gave England an excellent opportunity to take the lead in the ODI series in the UAE. In conditions offering no swing, no seam and precious little spin, Pakistan lost six for 29 in 12 overs, with three men run-out in circumstances that were faintly evocative of a Laurel and Hardy movie. Each of Pakistan’s top five made a start but, when England applied pressure, they snapped in surprisingly brittle fashion.
A late assault from Wahab Riaz, who thrashed three sixes in his unbeaten 33, at least took Pakistan above 200, but Pakistan will have to bowl brilliantly to defend such a modest total. Though there was a flurry of sixes in the final few overs, there were no fours after the 26th over and only three after the 16th. The average first innings score on this ground in recent games is over 300.
But while Pakistan may well come to rue a batting display that lacked calm heads, England will be delighted with the control and variation of their bowlers in conditions offering them little and the support they received from their fielders. Chris Woakes took four wickets, three of them with judiciously employed short balls while he nailed his yorkers towards the end of the innings and, for 11 overs in mid-innings – from the 26th to the 37th over – Pakistan’s most productive scoring shot was a single.
There was a moment, when Pakistan were 132 for 2 with more than 20 overs of their innings remaining, when it appeared a total approaching 270 was achievable. Yes, the pitch – used for the Test between these countries barely two weeks ago – was slow and the outfield slower, but there was no menace in it and England, without their key allrounder in Ben Stokes, had little in reserve should one of their bowlers experience a bad day.
But then Mohammad Hafzeez, attempting to turn an off cutter from David Willey around the corner, top-edged the ball to deep square leg and Sarfraz Ahmed skipped down the pitch in the next over and, attempting to drill Moeen Ali for six, could only loft a catch to deep midwicket.
With Mohammad Rizwan turning the ball into the leg side and setting off for an unlikely single only to see his partner, Shoaib Malik, rooted at the non-striker’s end and Iftikhar Ahmed pulling to deep square leg, Pakistan had lost 4 for 13 in six overs. By the time Malik, stranded by a direct hit from substitute fielder Chris Jordan having set off for an impossible single, was run out, Pakistan were 161 for 8.
Perhaps the innings had lost direction long before then. In the overs before the wicket of Hafeez, England’s spinners had bowled with impressive control and slowed the flow of runs to a trickle with six overs costing 17 runs. Moeen Ali’s 10-over spell conceded just 30 – with two powerful slog-sweeps for four from Sarfraz Ahmed inflicting the only real damage – while Adil Rashid came back from two early sixes courtesy of Hafeez to concede just 20 from his final six overs.
Even before then, Pakistan had played a part in their own downfall. Babar Azram and Azhar Ali had looked untroubled in adding 45 for the first wicket and looked set to take full advantage of winning the toss.
But then Babar top-edged a pull and Azhar, who had been driving the ball delightfully, was called through for an optimistic single by Hafeez. Perhaps Hafeez thought that James Taylor, sliding round from backward point, would not reach the ball but, once he had done so, it left Azhar well short of his ground.
Pakistan’s spinners may fancy their chances of bowling on this used surface. But they are without Yasir Shah, who has a knee injury, and instead must rely on 20-year-old Zafar Gohar, who is making his international debut having played only 19 List A matches. He impressed with the bat. Far from overawed with the occasion, he drove Willey for a straight six and helped Wahab add 26 for the ninth wicket. Perhaps it could yet prove a crucial contribution.
The four-match ODI series is currently level at one-all after Pakistan won the first match and England the second. The final match in the series takes place in Dubai on Friday.