Saqib Mahmood sets up stunning victory over Pakistan for England’s stand-ins after covid chaos

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Saqib Mahmood celebrates the wicket of Babar Azam (Getty Images)
Saqib Mahmood celebrates the wicket of Babar Azam (Getty Images)

You could make two whole cricket teams with the white-ball players England are missing due to Covid-19 protocols and injury, but Ben Stokes and his merry band of new boys brushed Pakistan aside in the first ODI in Cardiff.

They did not just win. They thrashed Pakistan, with such ease that the night element of this day-night match never arrived. And they did so with Stokes, who brought with him 98 of the team’s 126 ODI caps before the game, not batting, and only needing to bowl one over. He made some good choices as skipper, mind.

England became the first team to make 11 changes to their ODI lineup, handing out five debuts, three of them to men who had never played any international cricket before. Zak Crawley was the standout, with a nerve-settling 58 not out off 50 balls in the chase, but Lewis Gregory and Brydon Carse bowled nicely, too. Phil Salt and John Simpson, the keeper, had quieter days. There are four more players in this remarkable squad without an ODI cap, Will Jacks and Tom Helm among them, worth a look later in the series.

So this was a flexing of England’s limited-overs muscle, but it also brought 10 very welcome points in the ICC’s ODI Super League, taking England a step closer to qualifying automatically for the next World Cup.

The team might have been brand new for England, but the match followed a similar path to the rest of their ODIs this summer. They fielded first, and bowled extremely well against some poor batting. Pakistan were bowled out in the 36th over for just 141. England knocked the runs off with ease. They were one down, and had more than 28 overs remaining. Pakistan were well below their best – as bad as Sri Lanka have been this last month.

Nevertheless, this was an exciting, revelatory day for England. Saqib Mahmood, thrust into the role of attack leader, set the tone, with three of England’s four wickets in another stunning powerplay, including two in the very first over of the match.

There were also encouraging performances from Carse, who topped 91mph, and Matt Parkinson, who picked up a pair of wickets bowling from the Taff End, so often a spinner’s graveyard. Parkinson dismissed Fakhar Zaman, the only top order batter to stand up, followed it up with the wicket of Hasan Ali, and also saw two catches dropped off his bowling (although he did drop a simpler one himself).

In a clinical bowling performance, Ben Stokes was only required to bowl one over, while Craig Overton overcame a tough start to pick up the dangerous Shadab Khan. England bowled well, but there was some daft batting – not least when a promising partnership of 53 between Sohaib Maqsood and Fakhar was ended by a brainless run out. James Vince was the fielder, close in on the legside as they sought a quick single.

Mahmood was the big winner, though. A smart review saw Imam-ul-Haq pinned lbw to the first ball of the match, and the prized scalp, Babar Azam, was smartly caught at second slip by Crawley two balls later. After debutant Lewis Gregory had Mohammad Rizwan caught behind, Mahmood trapped debutant Saud Shakeel lbw to leave Pakistan 26 for four. In their four ODIs this summer, England have 15 wickets in the powerplay.

A five-over spell of three for 27 was not enough for Mahmood. He returned with the old ball to pick up Faheem Ashraf, and finished with fine figures of 10-1-42-4. It was a statement showing.

The chase was a breeze. Salt fell early, flashing at Shaheen Shah Afridi, but Crawley and Dawid Malan came together to share 120 in 17.4 overs. Malan drove beautifully through cover on his way to a second ODI half-century, while Crawley – after a slightly skittish start – settled and played beautifully all round the wicket. England will hope it is an innings that does their Test No3 the world of good.

Onwards to Lord’s, a full house – and surely a better Pakistan performance.

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