Different team, same result – just. England won the most thrilling white-ball match of the tour by three runs. So, 2-0 up with one match to go, they take the series.
Such has been the excellence of England’s play over the past fortnight that this outcome is no great surprise. But they scraped home with Chris Woakes, battered earlier in his spell, holding his nerve in the final over when Pakistan needed 11 for victory. They managed only seven.
This England team could easily be managed by Claudio Ranieri. Trevor Bayliss, it transpires, is not averse to a bit of tinkering. If Bayliss can emulate the recent results at Leicester City then everyone will be happy. England made four changes as well as a positional one – with Jos Buttler back behind the stumps and Sam Billings scampering around the outfield.
The four players on the bench on Thursday all played, instead of Eoin Morgan, Moeen Ali, Chris Jordan and Reece Topley.
Hence Buttler captained England for the first time. It was hard to work out when he had previously led a side. He was in charge of an England Under-18 team in 2009 in a match against Scotland A, two sides that no longer exist, and on that occasion James Vince was also playing. In 2001, as a 10-year-old, he watched Shahid Afridi play against Somerset – for Leicestershire – in a Lord’s final. Now he was tossing up with him.
Such is the pattern of modern cricket that it is now normal for someone with minimal experience to lead England. After all, this applied to two of their better captains, Nasser Hussain and Michael Vaughan. Even so, this must have been a special moment for Buttler, who tends not to reveal what he is thinking too readily.
However, afterwards Buttler said: “I loved the experience and enjoyed the pressure. It makes the game a bit more of an emotional experience. We were not at our best but we showed character with the bat and the ball at vital times.” No doubt it helps that England won but he remained typically calm when the game was in the balance. Nor did he pretend that everything was under control all the time.
The England innings started better but finished more prosaically than in the first match. No one could exceed the 38 of Vince, another impressive effort during which he looked at home at the next level up. Jason Roy, Joe Root and Buttler threatened mayhem but all found ways to get out. England were grateful that Woakes and the scampering Adil Rashid could contrive 14 runs from the last over of their innings.
Afridi was easily Pakistan’s most effective bowler; the skiddiness of his wrist-spinners should not surprise after all these years, but they do. His first ball thudded into Alex Hales’ pads; up went the umpire’s finger and Afridi raised his arms to the sky in a characteristic celebration that had a capacity crowd on its feet.
In fact, Afridi’s arms were seldom static while Pakistan were in the field. After every boundary there was an inquest, an animated consultation with the bowler often followed by a field change. Afridi’s body language gives rather more away than Buttler’s.
There was no doubting the passion of the Pakistan side, though their out-cricket was sometimes exasperating. Sohail Tanvir has trouble locating the ball out of the night sky. On Thursday a return catch befuddled him; here a skier slipped all too easily from his grasp.
Pakistan’s run chase began urgently. They reached 50 inside five overs and Buttler was soon grateful to his spinners to restore order. In Stephen Parry’s first over Ahmed Shehzad ran down the wicket to a slow delivery and was stumped by yards.
Then, in a fine unbroken spell, Rashid had Rafatullah Mohmand stumped before bamboozling Sohaib Maqsood with a series of googlies (“You told me he bowled leg-breaks”). Umar Akmal may have been unlucky to be given out caught behind down the leg-side.
Pakistan were behind the rate until the 18th over bowled by Woakes, which went for 22 runs including three sixes from Afridi. The saving grace was the dismissal of the Pakistan captain off the last ball.
Twenty five were needed off two overs. There were four overthrows off the body of Sarfraz Ahmed, for which the batsman was blameless. The target was reduced to 11 from the last over. A wicket, a boundary and three singles left four runs required off the last ball. Anwar Ali missed it. So one match remains in Sharjah on Monday. Who knows what team Claudio Bayliss will pick for that.