Something changed in the Pakistan team during the 4th ODI. It wasn't during the batting, they couldn't even put up a total of 250. Falling 3 runs short of that.
The change was noticeable during the bowling when they nearly defended 248 against a team that had scored 444 runs against them in the previous match. This flame of change was both ignited and extinguished by Irfan. The lanky bowler ran in bowling in the high 80s. He took out both openers within 7 overs but his dismissal of Pakistan's chief tormentor from the last game for only 8 runs really lifted the team. The way Irfan dominated the English captain before being taken off was another boost to the other bowlers in the team who lifted their game too. Gul had his best match of the tour showing what a good bowling partner can do for your own form.
England looked shaky, they were edging the ball, a review was called for. The Pakistani fielders were shouting and hollering making more noise in those few overs than they had made in the whole of the ODI series.
Then just as thing looked up for Pakistan. Irfan limped off the pitch leaving 5 overs of his quota unbowled earning the coach's wrath and taking any hopes of an unlikely Pakistani win with him. Pakistan lost the 4th match to go 4-0 down in the series. England insensitively talked about records involving 5-0 whitewashes. Irfan was pushed onto a plane and sent home and it looked like Pakistan's chances of avoiding a whitewash would be leaving with him.
Azhar won the last coin toss of this ODI series and put England in to bat. Not because it played to any strength of the Pakistani team but mainly because it didn't seem to make any difference what Pakistan did first or second.
Despite losing regular wickets England raced away on their way to another formidable total. They were on course for 340 when some good late bowling managed to keep them down to only 303. Hasan and Amir combined to take 7 wickets on a fast bowling friendly wicket whilst Gul had another off day and took another beating going at 8 runs per over. One wonders how many fewer runs England would have made had Irfan played in Gul's place because on most days anything over 270 is too much for this Pakistani batting lineup.
Very few Pakistani fans would have expected Pakistan to chase down a total this huge. I doubt the Pakistani team themselves would have seriously contemplated a win during the lunch break. Azhar opened the innings with Sharjeel who tried to swing the bat, he tried blocking but nothing helped. Too soon his limited range of strokes cost him his wicket yet again. You cant afford to be that predictable at this level.
In came Babar at number 3, he used to open in the past so batting at 3 seems a better fit for him than coming down the order. I've been saying this for a long time so I hoped that he would show something today to justify his promotion. Although he was out for only 31 runs, those runs were confident shots delivered imperiously. He pierced gaps at will and England seemed clueless as to how to stop him. He didn't look in any trouble until he got an unlucky inside edge onto the stumps from Wood.
Babar needs to stay at 3 now. Let's hope the management were watching as closely as I was and they learn that he is more suited to batting at the top of the order, no lower than 4.
Azhar kept Babar company seeming to show confidence in the pitch from the way Babar was playing. It was an uncharacteristically fluent inning for Azhar, at least it was until Babar got out and then Azhar decided not to wait for the end of the over before following him back to the dressing room.
In came man of the moment and captaincy contender Sarfraz who was joined by captain from the past and regular English pitches failure Shoaib Malik. Surely this was a disaster waiting to happen? We were still waiting for the disaster when Malik crossed 30 and it was announced that this was his highest score against England in England.
But the runs rollercoaster didn't derail like a ride at Alton Towers, it kept racing along. Malik and Sarfraz set a new Pakistani partnership record for the 4th wicket against England. Sarfraz eventually fell just 10 runs short of a well deserved century but Malik kept the score moving along with some timely big shots before also getting out for 77. Pakistan really needed one of these two to finish the game.
Finally it fell to Imad and Rizwan to take Pakistan home in a record run chase for Pakistan outside Asia against a non-Asian team. Imad continued to show his confident and aggressive batting style, even taking time to boost Rizwan and keep him going till they crossed the finish line together. Once again England had failed to take Imad's wicket but this time Imad was on the winning team.
Green fans celebrated Pakistan averting the whitewash. What a long way to fall for the fans of a Pakistan team which in previous generations had beaten England for the World Cup, dominated their way to a World Cup Final in English conditions and won the T20 World Cup in those same conditions too.
Hopefully the change in Pakistan's ODI fortunes started by Irfan in the 4th match can keep rolling on and they can climb from 9th back to the top end of the ODI table where they belong. Cricket just isnt cricket without a strong, brash and dominant Pakistani ODI team creating their own exciting brand of magic.
Pakistan chase down 303 for consolation victory
Pakistan chase down 303 for consolation victory