Phil Salt shakes up England to seal T20 series victory over Pakistan

<span>Jos Buttler (left) and Phil Salt get England off to a flying start in their run chase.</span><span>Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian</span>
Jos Buttler (left) and Phil Salt get England off to a flying start in their run chase.Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

Before England fly, they soared. Jos Buttler’s side will head to Barbados on Friday morning to start the defence of their T20 World Cup title buoyed by a comprehensive seven-wicket victory over Pakistan, achieved with 27 balls remaining, that concluded an abbreviated, rain-affected but nevertheless encouraging buildup.

“We feel confident, positive,” said Adil Rashid, who was named man of the match after taking two wickets and conceding just 27 in his four overs. “We’re in a good place. If we go out there, stick to our guns, stick to the positivity we have, hopefully we can go a long way. There’s a lot of clarity in terms of what we’re trying to do, and we’ve all got a common goal in what we’re trying to achieve.”

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The conditions they faced on a chilly evening in London – the match stretched to breaking point the definition of warm-up, with some batters awaiting their turn in the middle resorting to huddling under blankets – are unlikely to be replicated in the Caribbean, but their freshly inflated confidence should survive the flight. An impressive display in the field was followed by an emphatic one with the bat, supercharged by Buttler and Phil Salt scoring 78 runs in the first six overs. It was England’s all-time third-highest powerplay total and the second-highest ever conceded by Pakistan.

A little earlier Pakistan had enjoyed an impressive powerplay of their own, their opening batters Mohammad Rizwan and Babar Azam competing with England’s opening bowlers, Mark Wood and Jofra Archer, to see who could produce the speediest and brightest start. Wood replaced Reece Topley in England’s only change from the only previous game in this series not to have been rained off, at Edgbaston last Saturday. He started his first T20 of any kind for 13 months with a suitable explosion of pent-up energy, hitting 96mph in his second over.

That ball was driven square by Rizwan for a second successive boundary. In the following over, bowled by Chris Jordan, Babar also hit successive boundaries, in the process becoming the second batter after Virat Kohli to score 4,000 runs in the format. There were two boundaries in the next over as well, and the one after that. With a single ball of the powerplay remaining Pakistan were 59 without loss, and on top.

It was Archer’s second over, and if he had been making the ball move from the start what he shifted now was momentum. He took a bit of pace off, and instead of nudging past Rashid at short third Babar diverted it straight to him.

Rashid himself dealt with the other opener in the next over, hitting the top of middle and off. Fakhar Zaman, Shadab Khan and Azam Khan swiftly followed, the last of those the victim of a brilliantly accurate, vicious short ball into the body from Wood. From being 59 without loss after 35 balls, Pakistan were 95 for five after 65.

At that point the players had just returned from a brief rain break, and for a while it seemed that Usman Khan and Iftikhar Ahmed had been refreshed by a quick spray of drizzle and an inspiring pep talk in the dressing room. But then they decided to attack the back-up spin of Liam Livingstone, which did not go entirely to plan. Usman sent the ball too close to Jordan (not close at all, really, but with Jordan it is best not to take chances), Shaheen Shah Afridi heaved across the line and missed, Livingstone claimed a double-wicket maiden, and from there the innings petered out, Pakistan limping to 157 all out.

The briefest glance at the scoreboard will tell you that England’s response started excellently, but it was not instantly convincing. Twice in the first three overs bowlers found Buttler’s leading edge only for the ball to plop safely to earth, and the captain’s first boundary came off the outside edge.

Meanwhile there were more worrying signs for Pakistan: overthrows in the first over and a series of errors from Azam behind the stumps, most glaringly a straightforward and comprehensively fluffed catch off Buttler. Within that same Haris Rauf over, Buttler sent another edge past Azam for four, and yet another straight to him, this time held. Buttler’s performance could perhaps be described as unconvincing, but given that he scored 39 runs at a strike rate of 195 and left his team in a position of total dominance it would seem churlish.

Salt settled more quickly, scoring thrillingly carefree sixes off Mohammad Amir and Naseem Shah. But five runs from a half-century he pulled Rauf – flush off the middle, typically – straight to Rizwan. By the time Buttler fell a couple of overs later England needed 57 runs, had 11 overs to do it and the rest was little more than a procession. But the final bonus was that Jonny Bairstow, their least convincing batter at Edgbaston, found some form along the way, hitting three sixes including two heaves over cover off Shadab.