James Vince scored a magnificent maiden century for England as he and Lewis Gregory inspired their makeshift side to a series whitewash over Pakistan at Edgbaston.
England’s team of emergency call-ups had already clinched the Royal London Trophy with back-to-back walkovers but found this was a victory of a different magnitude – a record chase at the ground and one that came steeped in adversity.
Chasing 332 after Babar Azam’s superb 158, Vince navigated a rocky road from 165 for five and banished six years of unfulfilled promise at the highest level to make a brilliant 102.
Gregory also proved his skill and heart with a punchy 77 and when both men stumbled at the line, tailenders Craig Overton and Brydon Carse carried them home.
When Carse, who had already picked up five for 61 with the ball, stroked the winning runs through extra cover it was enough for a three-wicket win, a 3-0 clean sweep and all with 12 balls to spare.
It was a performance which even the late, great Bob Willis – for whom the ground had turned blue in a fundraising effort to help fight prostate cancer – could not have found fault, even at his most comedically curmudgeonly.
Pakistan started their innings in unusually becalmed fashion, reached a tentative 111 for one at the halfway stage. Babar and Imam-ul-Haq were ticking by at stately pace and may have continued to do so had Matt Parkinson not dismissed the latter with a classic. Drawing the left-hander out with drift he ragged his leg-break hard enough to rip it through the gate and into the stumps.
Enter Mohammad Rizwan, whose positivity inspired Babar to rush through the gears as the pair piled on 179 in 20 overs of exemplary one-day batting. Having taken 72 balls to score 50, Babar needed just 32 more to convert his ton and never looked back. He used his feet to hit Parkinson off his length, pulled hard and flat and brought up his 14th hundred with a beautifully measured cut.
Things eventually built to a dizzy crescendo with 148 runs and seven wickets in the final 15 overs. Carse took five of those as cashed in amid the chaos. Rizwan (74), Sohaib Maqsood and Hasan Ali were all bounced out, Babar’s masterclass finally ended when he toe-ended to backward point and Shaheen Shah Afridi’s chip completed his haul. Saqib Mahmood also took advantage as he struck with his last two balls.
England’s reply began in a similar frenzy, Dawid Malan walking for an edge that replays suggested had not occurred and Phil Salt kicking things off with four meaty boundaries from Afridi’s opening over. He rode that unchecked aggression all the way to 37 before it cost him his wicket.
The rate stayed sky high as Vince and Zak Crawley produced some wonderful strokeplay, peppering the ropes with pure timing as the score passed three figures in just 13 overs. But there was another mistake around the corner, Crawley playing around a straight one for 39 as Haris Rauf kept the bowlers in the fight.
Shadab Khan was aghast to see Ben Stokes dropped on seven and 18, but it proved third time lucky for the spinner when an under-edge was safely held at the stumps for 32. When John Simpson followed lbw the scoreboard cast England as heavy underdogs.
Had Imam not dropped Gregory on 10 they would have stayed that way. Instead he and Vince were allowed to form a dashing union, running eagerly and always easing the pressure with a timely boundary.
Despite Vince having a 48-run headstart they shared the load evenly and it was Gregory whose hooked six took the required runs into double figures for the first time. That was down to 62 off the last 10 overs, with Vince closing in on his long-awaited ton, full of trademark cuts and pulls.
He showed no doubts, swivelling to turn his 11th boundary to fine leg before swinging his bat in joy. Perhaps the release of emotion unseated him because four balls later he chipped straight to mid-off with 38 still needed.
That should not have been a problem for Gregory, who had just deposited two huge sixes in the stands, but one soaring top-edge later he was on his way too.
The row between fielders that followed the catch hinted that Pakistan did not have the coolest heads on show and instead it was Overton and Carse who calmly chalked off the remaining 29 runs. That they did so with time to spare and no further drama was merely further evidence of England’s remarkable limited-overs depth.