After England’s 1-1 series draw against Pakistan, Ben Gardner and Yas Rana write about seven things we’ve learnt from the three-match affair.
Eoin Morgan is getting better
It’s been quite the journey for the limited-overs supremo: from being England’s white-ball innovator early in his career, to leading an all-conquering side of which one of the few questions was his own batting form, to now, the team seemingly only getting better, and Morgan’s own form one of the main reasons for that.
His stats since the start of the 2019 summer read 475 runs at 52.77 with a strike-rate of 185.54 with his 33-ball 66 in the second T20I only the latest example of a player completely at ease in his own game, his own role, and with his legacy secure. Now he can simply enjoy being one of the best players in the world, leading one of the best white-ball teams there’s ever been. Why would he even think about retiring? BG
Tom Banton is the real deal
We’d already seen what Tom Banton could do, of course. Such is the modern age that there is nary a six hit in any T20 competition in the world that doesn’t get clipped up and posted on Twitter with the customary emojis, and the Somerset superstar has provided plenty of viral fodder in the T20 Blast and the Big Bash League.
But coming into this series, with nine England caps to his name, a 58 against Ireland was the only score of note. With competition for places as fierce as it has ever been, another lean outing might have seen the next outstanding talent given a run.
Instead, Banton justified the hype with a stunning 42-ball 71 in the rain-ruined first T20I, scooping and slamming five sixes off one of the world’s best T20 attacks. A swashbuckling 31-ball 46 in the final game also gave England a flying start to their pursuit of 191. Remember the name. BG
Dawid Malan: Another half-century, but questions remain
For many, including Malan himself, the stats are unarguable. Having brought up his seventh half-century in 12 innings in the second T20I, his average – 54.60 – was the best of any player with more than 500 runs in the format, with the strike rate of 150 not too shabby as well. As Malan said back in February, “I don’t know how you can be under pressure with numbers like that”.
But England’s strength in depth is so great, and T20 such a fast evolving game, that no longer can simply an excellent average and a good strike rate guarantee selection. The harsh truth is that England will still be concerned about Malan’s slow starts; he made 23 off 23 in the first T20I, was 10 off 10 in the second before catching up and out for seven off eight in a game England lost by five runs in the third.
They will worry that, as that average comes down, as it surely will, so too will the strike rate, and that a slow start that ends up as just that could be the thing that loses them a crucial World Cup game. He has probably neither gained nor lost ground on his rivals this series. BG
Old dog Hafeez learns new tricks
It feels like Mohammad Hafeez has been around forever. If you’re third-game debutant Haider Ali, that is quite literally the case, with the 39-year-old’s first-class debut coming before the 19-year-old’s birth. It’s been an odd sort of career, with little in the way of a defining performance, but also rarely clamour for him to be replaced, and there are signs that the experience is improving him, and that he is adapting well to the requirements of the modern game.
There was a rapid half-century in the 2017 Champions Trophy final, a boisterous 84 that rumbled England in last year’s World Cup, and now this: 69 off 36, a joint career-best 86 not out, each coming at a good lick. Hafeez has ensured his tour won’t be remembered from a bio-bubble breaching selfie with a nonagenarian, and in the offending tweet, he described the 90-year-old woman as “inspiritaional”. At this rate, he’ll be quite some player when he’s her age.
England’s Powerplay woes continue
England might be on a run of good T20I form – they’ve won 10 and lost four since the start of last year – but taking wickets up front remains a nagging problem. In the last 30 Powerplay overs they’ve bowled, only three wickets have been taken – two of those coming via Moeen Ali’s off-spin against left-handed openers. Jofra Archer’s T20I return for the upcoming Australia series will boost England’s firepower up top, but their recent new ball struggles does make David Willey’s continued absence all the more peculiar. YR
International cricket, welcome to Haider Ali
We may well have seen the emergence of a truly special player in the series finale. Haider Ali, 19 and on international debut, blasted 54 off 33 as he kicked the Pakistan innings into gear after a relatively sedate start on a belter of a track. Haider, who played in the Under-19 World Cup earlier this year and whose first-class and List A averages are both above 40, is definitely a talent to keep an eye on. YR
Are England any closer to finding a pure finisher?
Assuming Jos Buttler returns to the side at the top of the order – a role he filled earlier this year in South Africa – England are only marginally closer to finding out who should perform the role of the team’s finisher. In eight T20Is, Lewis Gregory has scored 35 runs at seven with strike-rate of 116.66 while Sam Billings stuttered in his 24-ball 26 in the third T20, even if he did well to initially halt his team’s slide.
Moeen Ali’s return to form with the bat was welcome, though. His 33-ball 61 was the innings of the series, though it may well be instructive that it came at No. 5 and not at No. 7, the position he’d most likely bat in a first-choice England XI. His main strength is his ability to murder high quality spin bowling, something he did in Manchester and something that he generally has the opportunity to do at No. 5, but not No.7. As brilliant as his innings was, we shouldn’t expect him to seamlessly continue that form when he inevitably gets shunted down the order for the Australia series. YR