Expectations were at an all-time-low heading into the T20Is, but England and Pakistan ended up producing a contender for the ‘Best bilateral T20I series of the year’, with all 3 matches proving to be prime-time blockbusters. But entertainment aside, there were plenty of learnings for both sides.
Ben Stokes is coming for Dawid Malan’s spot
A good chunk of the cricketing fraternity had its ‘told you so’ moment on Tuesday as Dawid Malan, after a year of successfully defying odds, made fans’ worst fears come true. Many a time in the past Malan has gotten out of jail after being slow off the blocks, but Tuesday wasn’t going to be one: he started in third gear and ended in first gear as his 33-ball 31 almost single-handedly cost England the match. That Malan’s ‘I will bide my time’ approach will eventually haunt England one day is something many experts had warned about, and Tuesday proved to be that day.
On a slow, turning track – his kryptonite – with England chasing a relatively small target, there lay a perfect opportunity for the southpaw to put all criticisms to bed. But after his showing at Old Trafford yesterday, the prospect of Malan being in the starting XI come the WT20 seems unfathomable.
Particularly after what Liam Livingstone and Moeen Ali achieved across the three games, with both bat and ball. Not only do Livingstone and Ali add more balance to the side due to their ability to bowl, but they also can start in sixth gear and smash spinners to smithereens – two things Malan is incapable of doing.
As captain Morgan, from the non-strikers’ end, watched Livingstone smash a humongous six off his first ball on the back of Malan struggling to buy a run for an hour, it felt like the Cricketing Gods were giving the most obvious of hints to the England skipper.
Whether Morgan will get that hint is another question altogether, but if he does, you suspect it’ll be Ben Stokes that takes Malan’s place. Stokes, as he’s shown in the IPL, can be a force of destruction up the order when given more time, but most importantly keeping Livingstone at 5 or 6 will help England eschew one-dimensionality in the middle-order that is LHB dominated.
The contrasting spin tales of England and Pakistan
For all the talk about England, Australia, South Africa and West Indies being ‘lucky’ to avoid drawing Asian teams in the WT20, it was Pakistan whose spin stocks looked paper-thin and average. England out-spinning Pakistan at home is a scenario that would have been inconceivable a decade or two ago, but this three-match T20I series projected the paradigm shift.
The gulf in the quality of spinners of the two sides was evident in the 2nd T20I in Leeds, which England, after losing the toss, won by 45 runs. While the Headingley wicket looked flat when Shadab Khan (1/33) and Imad Wasim (2/37) got through their overs in a flash, Leeds was made to look like Lucknow by Adil Rashid and Matt Parkinson, who schooled their Pakistan counterparts. The ball dipped, turned and spun when the two English leg-spinners had the ball in hand, something it refused to do when Shadab and Imad were operating, in turn making life easy for the English batters.
And as the third T20I showed, while England have a plethora of options at their disposal – Moeen and Livingstone too, to go along with Rashid and Parkinson – Pakistan are unsure as to who their go-to spinner is. Who among Shadab, Imad and Usman Qadir will be Pakistan’s best bet is something Misbah-ul-Haq currently does not know.
On the basis of this series, you suspect that England wouldn’t have minded drawing Pakistan in the UAE, after all.
The need for Pakistan to back Sohaib Maqsood and Azam Khan
It is true that Pakistan would have ended up on the winning side had they boasted of a more competent middle-order. Quite remarkably, Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan ended up scoring 56.4% of the total team runs in the series, and no other visiting batsman managed to score more than 60 runs across the three matches. But while the middle-order did not fire, it would be quite egregious on Pakistan’s part to move on from Sohaib Maqsood and Azam Khan on the basis of merely three matches (two in the case of the latter).
Picked on the back of a career-turning PSL season, Maqsood was dismissed thrice in the span of 29 balls, all three times going for glory. But though not accumulating runs, or creating the impact he would have liked to, the right-hander showed that he’d upskilled enough to warrant a decent run.
Thrice coming on the back of considerably big Babar-Rizwan stands, Maqsood showed that he could go big from the get-go. In all three matches, Maqsood smashed at least two boundaries off his first five balls, instantly transferring the pressure back to the opposition post the fall of a (big) wicket. That he didn’t kick on after the initial mini-onslaught works against him, but across all three innings he provided a glimpse of his reformed self that was able to hit boundaries at will.
Azam Khan, on the other hand, only batted seven balls in the series and was dropped for the final game, but through their decision making, Pakistan had set him up to fail. He batted only one over at Trent Bridge, while at Headingley, despite Azam Khan boasting a SR of 181 against spin, the youngster was sent below both Hafeez and Zaman, by which time the required run-rate had risen up to 13.37. The Misbah management has made a lot of questionable decisions in the past, but judging and dropping Azam Khan after 7 balls will top everything.
Azam and Masood might not have the run-scoring pedigree of Rizwan, Babar or Hafeez, but what they can do is strike powerful blows, which is what Pakistan are currently lacking in a team full of accumulators.
What now for Sam Curran?
Between 27 November 2020 and 26 Jun 2021, Sam Curran featured in all of England’s 11 T20Is. He existed in the side not exactly knowing what his role was – only 5 times he bowled more than 2 overs, and he never faced more than 10 balls, facing just 34 balls across 7 innings – but he existed, nevertheless. Morgan viewed Curran as a useful utility player and banked on the x-factor he brought to the table.
In the aftermath of the Pakistan series now, though, you wonder how Curran will fit into this XI, particularly in UAE. During the aforementioned time frame, Curran occupied the No.7 slot in the side, but still operated as a bowling all-rounder, more often than not chipping in with the ball in the first 10 overs. But with both Livingstone and Moeen Ali – who are also all-rounders – putting up performances that make them near undroppable, and with Ben Stokes set to return, it remains to be seen if England will still stick with Curran, who can be relied upon neither with the bat nor with the ball. As talented as he is with the bat, Curran is yet to prove himself in T20 internationals, with his highest score reading 24.
That leaves him competing with Chris Jordan for the No.8 spot, with Rashid, Archer and Wood being locks. Curran trumps Jordan when it comes to bowling up-front, but it is worth noting that Jordan has been *the* go-to bowler for England at the death. Since the start of 2019, no English bowler has bowled as many death overs (16-20) as Jordan, with him having sent down 85 more deliveries at the death than any English bowler. He endured a fine Pakistan series too, finishing with an ER of 7.50 in the death overs. Thus, really, his place in the side is all but fixed. At least for the time being.
Curran’s bits-and-pieces ability kept him in the XI for one year, but as the WT20 nears, there is every chance that not being a master of one trade could cost him a place in the starting XI.