England’s one-day cricketers are still buzzing. A vibrant crowd in excess of 20,000 looked on as they beat Pakistan by 14 runs in the first of the three Twenty20 internationals, and they did it with some style.
There was much to savour, albeit against a Pakistan side who look increasingly fragile in white-ball cricket. England recovered from a nightmarish start with the bat, with many of those who have been confined to the bench recently making significant contributions.
On his T20 debut James Vince was impressive; so was Sam Billings with the bat and the gloves; Stephen Parry bowled cleverly and Liam Plunkett, in his second T20 international (nine years after his first) was outstanding – and fast – with the ball in his hand. It was almost as if Plunkett was venting his frustrations at being a permanent bystander ultimately shunned for the Test tour of South Africa.
England selected the same side as the one that played against the UAE, which was a surprise. This meant that they omitted at least two of their best players, Jos Buttler and Joe Root. Normally the experimentation comes at the end of a series, ideally once the trophy has been secured.
However this unusual move had a certain logic. International T20 cricket has an unusual rhythm to it. Very little of it is played between World Cups – especially by England.
Between now and the next tournament in March, England have these three matches against Pakistan, two more at the tail-end of the South Africa tour plus two warm-up matches somewhere in India. So there is not much time remaining for experimentation or to assess the worth of the fringe players.
It may well be that Eoin Morgan sits out Friday’s fixture here in Dubai, leaving Buttler in charge of an England team for the first time.
Morgan said the newcomers to the action were “exceptional” and explained the strategy behind the selection. “We are trying to expand the squad and that means some of the seniors having to sit out for the long-term benefit,” the captain said. Experience has to be gained on the job since, in Morgan’s opinion, “we don’t have a good enough tournament at home”.
England began their innings haplessly. Jason Roy holed out to mid-on; Alex Hales, dropped in Keystone Cop style by Sohail Tanvir, was soon caught at mid-off and an out-of-sorts Moeen Ali went for a duck. England had slumped to 19 for three in the fourth over.
Morgan has been this way before; he stayed calm and would go on to play a vital and, by his standards, anonymous innings as he oversaw the recovery. The contributions of Vince and Billings, who would hit his maiden fifty, were more interesting.
As he has done frequently for Hampshire, Vince was eager to make room to explore the gaps on the off-side but there were meaty blows to midwicket as well. He was furious with himself when he was bowled by Wahab Riaz for 41 since a major innings out of adversity was on the horizon.
However Vince’s dismissal hardly stalled England since Billings sparkled in Buttler-esque fashion. He executed the ramp shot over his left shoulder with the routine nonchalance of the 21st century batsman and there were flat-bat drives of extraordinary power. He can run fast as well. He can also be unreliable but he epitomises the no-fear policy that is gaining ground in the England camp.
Billings was most severe on Imran Khan, a bowler who is the polar opposite of the all-rounder of the same name of 25 years ago. This Imran, who is not the one who played in the Test series, bowls with his left arm off a short, shuffling run-up and appears to specialise in a selection of slower balls. Moreover, he is not known to have any political ambitions. On balance he is less threatening with the ball in his hand than his illustrious predecessor. Not that Billings appears to be intimidated by anyone in this form of the game.
Pakistan were always behind the rate in an increasingly frantic run-chase. Their predicament was highlighted by the run-out of Umar Akmal, arguably their most dangerous batsman.
Akmal and Sohaib Maqsood both sprinted earnestly to the same end and the third umpire had to be summoned to adjudicate who had to go (it was Akmal who had to leave the action early).