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Babar Azam 110*, Mohammad Rizwan 88* as Pakistan cruise to ten-wicket win

Pakistan 203 for 0 (Babar 110*, Rizwan 88*) batted England 199 for 5 (Moeen 55*, Rauf 2-30) with ten wickets

A world-record unbeaten 203-run partnership that was devastating in its brutality yet luscious in its beauty saw Mohammad Rizwan and Babar Azam chasing 200 against England with three balls to spare and without the loss of a single wicket. Babar scored his second T20I hundred, taking 62 balls to get there, while Rizwan’s unbeaten 51-ball 88 was a more than adequate supporting act.

The wicket looked particularly slow in the first innings, so England’s 199 looked well beyond par at that point. It came thanks to two contrasting innings from the England middle order, with Ben Duckett’s pragmatic shot-making setting a platform before Moeen Ali’s furious elegance saw him caress an unbeaten 55 from 23. Given Babar had said at the toss 160 would be the upper limit of what Pakistan would chase, England looked invulnerable.

But for all Pakistan’s strike-rate problems down the order, there has never been any evidence that Babar and Rizwan are not at their best when chasing a total, whatever the total may be. After all, they shot 204 against South Africa in April 2021 with a partnership of 197 runs and were more than ready for the relentlessly attacking cricket they would have to subject England’s bowling to. Fifty-nine came off the powerplay and the openers simply continued in the same vein as the visitors ran out of ideas. Alex Hales grassing Rizwan in the powerplay was a sliding door moment as an almost chanceless opening pair timed the chase to perfection to seal a stunning 10-wicket victory.

The devastating duo
There is not much point in talking about much else. England have the better power hitters, the better middle order and significantly more batting weapons in their arsenal and Babar and Rizwan don’t know it. These two put together a solid opening stand in the first game, only to see their teammates crumble under pressure, and so it seemed they recognized that solid wasn’t going to cut it. They may have to do it all themselves.

A couple of boundaries either side of square from Rizwan in the first over set the tone. Rizwan led the charge early on as the captain took time to bed, although a couple of clumsy boundaries off Sam Curran suggested Babar was also beginning to spin back into form. With the pace the bowlers had seen, Moeen turned to Liam Dawson’s spin, but 13 runs from the sixth over suggested Pakistan would allow the visitors no hiding place.

A brief lull after the powerplay saw the questioning spis creep up, but when Moeen got on in the 13th over, the tide turned decisively. Twenty-one from the over, including three muscular sixes, put the openers in a zone few others in world cricket can reach. After that they were unstoppable, England’s bowlers were no obstacle in the relentless march to the target. A flurry of boundaries followed and when Babar brought up his century, victory was almost a formality. Fittingly, it was a cover drive that sealed the win, a signature shot from a man who showed a fleeting dip in form was little more than that.

Duckett and Moeen’s contrasting styles
It would be hard to imagine what kind of surface you need to produce to ensure that both Moeen and Duckett can excel, but this Karachi strip appears to be one of them. A slow surface made it difficult to play down the ground and so Duckett resorted almost exclusively to playing the paddle and reverse sweep to great effect. A quickfire 50-run stand with Phil Salt allowed England to edge in front, and when Duckett was cleared by Mohammad Nawaz, he had scored what looked to be an extremely handy 22-ball 43 in an innings where England otherwise had a hard time.

But Moeen then took the reigns, punishing every error in line and length – of which there were plenty on an off-colour day for Pakistan’s bowlers – making a mockery of the idea that this pitch might not be suited to conventional shot-taking. He did not differentiate between spin and pace, Usman Qadir and Mohammad Hasnain both saw the last two deliveries of their final overs sail over the ropes. It was a breathtaking blend of timing, power and beauty, an all-round feast for the eyes that, at the time, looked like it might be the point of difference.

Danyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Danny61000

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