Fast-bowling could be worry for Pakistan, England happy to continue experimenting

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The shapeshifting nature of a seven-match T20I series makes it difficult to capture the big picture in words that age well, so the first rule of doing this is accepting that.

England, after all, have a seemingly bottomless pit of explosive T20 cricketers, and as Harry Brook and Will Jacks – who debuted on Friday – showed in the series, they’re nowhere near scraping the bottom of that barrel. Pakistan, meanwhile, have the most consistent T20I opening pair in the world, and a middle order that has so far been unable to live up to its vast potential. We all know this. We knew it three games ago, and we know some combination of these events will continue to define the final four games of this series, because that’s what you get with Pakistan and England. We didn’t need three T20Is on the best batting pitch in the world to figure that out.
But that doesn’t mean there’s no value to be gained from this glut of games. Pakistan have seen the debates that are both furious in their intensity and tiresome in their repetitiveness around the top and middle order rage on, but that has shielded the bowlers from the scrutiny they deserve after two especially uninspiring performances. Shadab Khan’s return to fitness cannot come soon enough, with Usman Qadir having comprehensively failed to take the chances that have come his way. It might have been forgotten in the blur of boundaries that followed, but England hadn’t hit a six in the first half of the innings until Qadir landed a half-volley right in new batter Brook’s hitting arc and found himself dispatched over his head.

The seamers, too, have repeatedly failed to find their lines and lengths at crucial points in overs, and evidence of match-up bowling has been scarce. The short-ball at pace was persisted with despite Brook’s prolific ability on the pull and behind the wicket, while rigidity with bowlers’ lines frequently allowed him to back away and open up cover, where deep protection often didn’t exist. The fielding hasn’t helped either, and in the ferocity of the culture war around batting intent, it escapes notice that the best way to limit the need for extreme risk-taking is by making sure you don’t need to chase down any more than necessary.

England have problems, too, but of a much different kind. They have been the side happier to treat these games as experiments, tinkering around with both the batting and the bowling, even opting to set a total in one game, a modern T20 anathema. Alex Hales has shone on his England return, and Ben Duckett, Brook and Jacks have all enjoyed impressive starts to the series. Adil Rashid‘s landed them with almost metronomic consistency, making him the most useful spinner from either side. And if you thought Luke Wood was a shot in England’s arm, what Mark Wood did on his return from injury on Friday – racking up a top speed in excess of 97 mph – becomes incomprehensible. All of this means there’s little England can complain about so far this tour.

Form guide

Pakistan: LWLLL (last five completed matches, most recent first)
England: WLWLL

In the spotlight

When the opposition amasses huge scores for fun, don’t expect to get any credit as a bowler. Especially one who doesn’t pick up many wickets. And yet, Mohammad Nawaz, having conceded 94 in three games for just one wicket, is arguably Pakistan’s best T20 bowler. It is a selfless role of sorts he plays, operating as a left-arm spinner with only pace and line variations to rely on. He doesn’t possess the ability to turn it big, but it’s uncanny how often a slight slowing of an England innings tempo coincides with Nawaz’s introduction. He hasn’t been afraid to take on an over or two in the powerplay, either, and against an England side that’s scored 580 runs in just under 60 overs, Nawaz has found a way to concede just 7.83 in his dozen.

In an England batting line-up so chock-full of natural power-hitters, Dawid Malan can stick out. He might have been the number one ranked T20I player fairly recently, but the big-hitting that comes so effortlessly to his team-mates is obviously not his forte in the same manner. Despite impressing as opener in the Hundred, it has been a tricky start to the series for him, his penchant for starting slowly offering Pakistan’s bowlers much-needed respite. The slow, low conditions haven’t helped – and, of course, won’t be a feature of surfaces in Australia at the upcoming T20 World Cup. But with his team-mates hitting sixes for fun, Malan might feel it’s about time he showed why he belongs in this glittering batting line-up.

Evening conditions have cooled down slightly in Karachi, though it remains fairly humid. A fresh pitch will be used for this game.

Naseem Shah might return as Pakistan look to level the series, while the middle order could face a reshuffle as the hosts search for their best combination. Shadab will be expected to come in at some stage, and, if available, would slot straight in for Qadir.

Pakistan (probable): 1 Babar Azam (capt) 2 Mohammad Rizwan/Mohammad Haris (wk) 3 Haider Ali 4 Shan Masood 5 Iftikhar Ahmed 6 Khushdil Shah/Asif Ali 7 Mohammad Nawaz 8 Shadab Khan/Usman Qadir 9 Mohammad Hasnain 10 Naseem Shah 11 Haris Rauf

England didn’t train on Saturday and would be expected to make a couple of changes for the fourth T20I. Mark Wood will likely be rested after his explosive burst on Friday, with Tom Helm or Olly Stone the likeliest replacements. Hales may also return despite Jacks’ impressive debut. David Willey might come in if Sam Curran gets a rest.

England: 1 Phil Salt (wk), 2 Alex Hales/Will Jacks, 3 Dawid Malan, 4 Ben Duckett, 5 Harry Brook, 6 Moeen Ali (capt), 7 Sam Curran/David Willey, 8 Liam Dawson 9 Reece Topley, 10 Adil Rashid, 11 Olly Stone

“You tend to be a bit fresh after seven months out. It’s been a long time, and I felt very tired at the end. I know it’s only a T20, but it’s all the intensity of international cricket.”

England’s Mark Wood opens up on his fearsome spell in his first game back from injury.

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