Pak vs Eng 2022 – 4th T20I

A fielder scampered in from mid-on, flung himself off his feet and threw underarm at the stumps. The zing bails lit up with Reece Topley miles short of his ground and the sold-out National Stadium in Karachi was drowned in noise.

Thousands had streamed out of the exits when England needed nine runs off 12 balls but rushed back to catch a glimpse of the celebrations as Pakistan squared the series ahead of the final three games in Lahore. The stadium announcer identified the fielder as Shan Masood, prompting another huge cheer from the stands.

What a difference 20 overs can make. With 10 balls left in the first innings, Masood had been pinned on the pad by David Willey for a painstaking 21 off 19 balls and suffered T20 cricket’s ultimate ignominy: his own supporters celebrated his dismissal.

Pakistan had spent the night preparing for lift-off but, despite the best efforts of Masood and Mohammad Rizwan – both of whom played with intent but little power or timing – they couldn’t get off the launchpad. Alex Hales’ fumbled attempt at a catch when Masood had 3 off 7 ended up being to England’s benefit.
The atmosphere during the closing stages of Pakistan’s innings was close to mutinous, but with good reason. Each wicket meant an opportunity for a middle-order power-hitter to come in and swing and the crowd – the loudest of the series so far – felt short-changed by accumulation. Somehow, Asif Ali was only afforded three balls; he responded by hitting two of them for six.
Only three nights have passed since Rizwan and Babar Azam hunted down a 200-run target like panthers in the wild, waiting for the right time to attack and seizing on their prey in the form of Moeen Ali’s offbreaks. But on Sunday, their combined contribution of 124 off 95 balls meant familiar doubts about their approach resurfaced, however harsh they might have seemed.
England’s chase was a complete contrast: they lost three wickets in the first two overs, enough to condemn most teams to defeat, but Ben Duckett, Harry Brook and Moeen counterpunched to ensure that the required rate never got out of hand.
Wickets fell at regular intervals but, with 33 needed off 18 balls and only three wickets in hand, Liam Dawson kept swinging: he blitzed Mohammad Hasnain for 23 runs in four legitimate deliveries, as if to underline the scale of England’s batting depth. But with five needed off 10 balls, they lost their last three wickets for a single run.

This was a night that posed a question that is fundamental to T20 cricket: what is a wicket worth? It seemed self-evident that Pakistan’s batters had placed far too high a value on theirs but England’s were given away too cheaply. Both nations have experienced significant inflation this year but the price of a wicket is more volatile than any currency.

This series has pitted sides with contrasting styles against one another: Pakistan’s top order view 20 overs like an endurance test, taking pride in getting as close as they can to the finish; England’s batters are like relay runners, each one reaching top speed as quickly as possible before passing the baton onto their team-mate.

Across the four games in Karachi, England have scored 9.44 an over and lost a wicket every 21.5 balls; for Pakistan, the figures are 8.61 and 25.1 respectively. England are a strong batting line-up with a vulnerable bowling attack; Pakistan are a strong bowling team with a vulnerable batting line-up.

Clearly, both teams’ gameplans are informed by the players they have available. “We batted incredibly deep,” Matthew Mott, England’s coach, said. “We back that depth and go all the way through but every team assesses the conditions differently and plays to their strength. They did that perfectly the other night when they chased down 200. There’s different ways to go about it.”

Sport is at its best when teams have clear identities, particularly when they clash like this: think of Pep Guardiola’s long-standing rivalry with Jose Mourinho and the contrast between idealism and pragmatism, or the grace of Roger Federer against Rafael Nadal’s tenacity. Any game would become boring if everyone played in the same way.

T20 cricket in 2022 is a sport of order, plans and strategy. Captains and coaches talk in extensive detail about their meticulous preparation and the research that underpins it. Players have access to video footage of every opponent and analysis is not just part of the game, but an industry in itself.

But on this Sunday night, as Masood picked himself off the ground and was mobbed by his team-mates, the crowd’s celebrations ringing in his ears, he could reflect on a truth underpinning the drama. This format, like any other, is at its best when it descends into pure, unadulterated chaos.

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