“Please, sir, I want some more.” Perhaps few people thought we’d still have a healthy appetite after five matches of the series – the first of this length between two Full Members – but here we are, holding out our bowl for another series of what has been a rip-roaring contest. Tall run chases, low-scoring scraps, last-over finishes, we’ve pretty much had the lot, with Pakistan wrestling their way to a 3-2 lead after the first match of the Lahore leg on Wednesday night.
England might feel somewhat bewildered to find themselves trailing for the first time since coasting to a six-wicket victory in Karachi nine days ago. They have often seemed to be the team in control, only for games to be whipped from their grasp in dizzying, uber-Pakistani style. The twist in Lahore was that spin, rather than pace, helped pull the rug from under them, as a period of stodgy middle-overs accumulation against Shadab Khan and Iftikhar Ahmed left Moeen Ali too much catching up to do at the back end.
Such a tense finale, with the debutant allrounder Aamer Jamal keeping a grip on his bottle – despite the evening dew – to close out victory from the final ball, had not seemed likely at halfway when the hosts had been bowled out with an over to spare. But what seemed a straightforward chase of 146 lurched into trouble during the powerplay, with openers Phil Salt and Alex Hales continue to struggle for form.
Shadab’s return was a fillip for Pakistan, the legspinner immediately providing greater control than the man he replaced, Usman Qadir. But England might feel Iftikhar was allowed to burgle an analysis of 4-0-16-1 – albeit he was used cannily as a match-up for England’s left-handers.
An underwhelming display from the rest of Pakistan’s top order may not help their planning in the long run, however, and there might be some disquiet at Babar Azam being bounced out cheaply for the second time in successive encounters with Mark Wood. Nevertheless, Babar is still the second leading-scorer on either side, and may get a night off from Wood’s 150kph/93mph crowd-silencers as England seek to preserve him for the upcoming World Cup.
And while that tournament, to be held in Australia, will be played in significantly different conditions, both of these talented-but-mercurial (yes, we’ve said it) teams can only benefit in their preparations from a couple more rounds of high-energy jousting. If we can ask for one more thing, it would be another tug on the rope and a series decider for game seven.
Pakistan: WWLWL (last five completed matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
Pitch and conditions
Two strips had been prepared at the Gaddafi Stadium and it seems likely Friday’s game will be played on the fresh one. The evidence of the fifth T20I suggested that run-scoring will be much harder work than on the lightning decks of Karachi. Rain shouldn’t be a problem, but the players can expect another hot and humid night.
Pakistan (probable): 1 Babar Azam (capt), 2 Mohammad Rizwan/Mohammad Haris (wk), 3 Shan Masood, 4 Haider Ali, 5 Iftikhar Ahmed, 6 Asif Ali, 7 Mohammad Nawaz, 8 Shadab Khan, 9 Aamer Jamal, 10 Haris Rauf/Mohammad Hasnain, 11 Mohammad Wasim
Buttler seems unlikely to be risked as he continues to rehab from a calf strain, despite saying on Wednesday he could “play tomorrow” if it was a World Cup game. England could look to add to their spin options by bringing back Liam Dawson, and there are likely to be changes to the seam attack with management wary of putting Wood and Chris Woakes through back-to-back games.
England (probable): 1 Phil Salt (wk), 2 Alex Hales, 3 Dawid Malan, 4 Ben Duckett, 5 Harry Brook, 6 Moeen Ali (capt), 7 Sam Curran, 8 David Willey/Liam Dawson, 9 Adil Rashid, 10 Olly Stone, 11 Richard Gleeson
Stats and trivia
“I spoke to Moeen bhai and told him the pitch looked great to me, so I don’t know why it was a low-scoring game. There was a lot of dew so it should have been a high-scoring game. The pitch looked great to bat on, but I don’t understand why the game panned out like it did.”
Shadab Khan wasn’t expecting to be so successful the other night
“No. You play so much cricket that everybody gets out to short balls at times. It’s not like just because it’s Pakistani players, we’re bowling short. It’s not because it’s Babar Azam or anyone like that, he’s just got out a couple of times. It’s just that when you have somebody like Mark Wood, you have to use that short ball.”
Moeen Ali plays down the idea Pakistan have a bouncer problem
Alan Gardner is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick