Phil Salt's 88 not out powers England to series-squaring victory

Phil Salt's 88 not out powers England to series-squaring victory

England 170 for 2 (Salt 88*) beat Pakistan 169 for 6 (Babar 87*) by eight wickets

Pakistan made a change up top, replacing a reliably consistent wicketkeeper with a potentially explosive one, but it was England's wicketkeeper-batter who had the last say. In a sensational shock-and-awe approach that paid off to its fullest extent, it took the visitors just 14.3 overs to chase down 170 and level up the series with a handsome eight-wicket.

Much of it came thanks to a brutal onslaught by in the Powerplay, who took a mere 19 balls to reach his half-century - the third-fastest by an England cricketer in T20I cricket - as England posted 82 in the Powerplay, their second highest score in the first six overs. England weren't done, though, with the next two overs yielding a further 35 as Salt rocketed towards a stunning century. He would finish just short of that milestone, managing an unbeaten 88 in 41 balls, but that didn't prevent an England cakewalk to the target.
England needed the win if they were to keep the series alive, and that perhaps showed in the team selections, too. With Pakistan aware they had margin for error, two of their key players, and were rested. , who came in for the former, couldn't quite take his chance, but carried his bat, scoring the sort of classical 59-ball 87 not out that almost appears to be his trademark.

The innings took Babar to 3,000 T20I runs in 81 innings, joint-fastest with Virat Kohli, but with limited support from the other end and one of the more consistent England bowling performances to deal with, Pakistan always felt a touch behind par. It was only when Iftikhar Ahmed and Mohammad Nawaz helped out with cameos at the death that Pakistan approached a total they thought they could defend. Salt, and England's batters, however, would swiftly make them reconsider.

No sooner had Pakistan got back out into the middle - with momentum ostensibly with them after a strong finish - did Salt wrench it all away from the hosts. When he backed away to pick Nawaz up over extra cover through the air and just beat the man in the circle, it set the tone for things to come. Another boundary followed two balls later, but it was really Shahnawaz Dahani's following over that demonstrated the astronomically high ceiling of Salt's ability, whatever his game-to-game inconsistencies might be.

Twenty-two runs came off that over, and with Alex Hales joining the fun with a 12-ball 27, England simply kept hurtling along. There were four boundaries in the third over and four in the fifth as Salt made a mockery of what Pakistan had deemed a par score. The game was nearly a foregone conclusion when the Powerplay ended, but the bellicose mood Salt found himself in wouldn't end with the fielding restrictions. Aamer Jamal was slapped for 20 in the seventh over, including a stunning flat pulled six that seemed to scorch the air it passed through, no higher than 15 metres off the ground. In the end, a gentle backfoot punch that belied the brutality of his earlier exploits would seal the win, the insouciance of the shot symbolizing Pakistan's complete inability in stifling him.

Curran exploits conditions

It's not what the game will be remembered for, but s canny use of the sticky conditions played a huge part in ensuring the batters could polish this game off quickly. Understanding the conditions with the accuracy of a local player and exploiting them with the intelligence of a more seasoned one, he was all over Pakistan through his four-over spell. Curran's variations, the fingers rolled over the seam, the ball digging into the pitch, were about as hard to swat away as the bugs encircling the ground, and no batter could quite manage it. The short ball, even at his pace, was a challenge to handle, and it brought about the downfall of Haider Ali, while the cutter put paid to Iftikhar. Curran had punctured Pakistan's innings right through the middle, setting up Salt to really let the air out of their hopes.

Rizwan's absence didn't seem to dim Babar's ability to get runs up top, and the early loss of his opening partner didn't faze him, either. Babar and Rizwan have often talked up how much they understand each other's games, but in Rizwan's absence today, Babar almost seemed to transform into his opening partner, playing a knock Rizwan himself would have been proud of. Watching his partners come and go, Babar kept up the pace in the Powerplay before gradually upping gears, never seeming to break sweat to pick up the routine boundaries that seemed to elude his team-mates. The 87 he ended up with took Pakistan to a higher total than they defended in each of the last two games, and the Pakistan captain would have been well within his rights to assume it would end up being the most telling contribution of the day. Salt, however, ensured it would end up as little more than a footnote in a game that sets up a grandstand finale.