The third one-day international between England and Pakistan was a belter, lit up by sublime centuries from two stylists in James Vince and Babar Azam and seeing £254,000 raised for Prostate Cancer UK in memory of Bob Willis.
It was one of those days where it felt like everyone was a winner, even if the scorecard shows England emerged victorious by three wickets to claim a 3-0 series scoreline. Led by Ben Stokes, a team of reserves pressed into action by last week’s Covid-19 outbreak knocked off a target of 332 with 12 balls to spare – a record for an ODI at Edgbaston.
Vince was the standout for the hosts, his 102 from 95 balls representing a maiden international century for a talent that many feared would remain unfulfilled in an England shirt, while Lewis Gregory also took his chance at No 7 with 77 from 69 that featured three mighty sixes.
Between them the pair helped England rise from the canvas at 165 for five in the 26th over with a sixth-wicket stand of 129. And while both fell before the end – in the case of Gregory, some 67 runs after Imam-ul-Haq had grassed a simple chance at cover – Craig Overton and Brydon Carse had enough about them to see England over the line, the latter following a maiden five-wicket haul by caressing the winning four through the covers.
“I don’t know if and when the next opportunity will be but that was one of the best days I have had,” said Vince, having finally tasted three-figures at the 44th attempt across all formats. “I know the opinion on my career is someone who has made starts but with no big contributions. And that has been the case. Hopefully this will give me more confidence and prove something to others too.”
A crowd of 19,500 was frankly spoiled, having earlier witnessed the world’s No 1 one-day batsman, Azam, deliver a memorable 158 from 139 balls as the tourists made 331 for nine. The bulk were cheering for England but Pakistan’s loyal local following made their voices heard every time the ball flew off his thick bat.
Pakistan’s captain became the fastest player to 14 ODI centuries – in just his 81st innings – and put on an exhibition in limited-overs acceleration in which his first half-century come in 72 balls, before the second and third took just 32 and 30 respectively. Imam, 56 from 73 balls, and Mohammad Rizwan, 74 from 58, played supporting roles but until Vince began slotting fours during the run chase, Azam was a cut above the rest.
Carse cashed in on Pakistan’s attempt at a late surge and claimed five for 61, while Saqib Mahmood ended a fine series of nine wickets overall with three for 60. This was not a day to be a bowler, however, the pitch offering set batsmen near-full licence to hit through the line or rock back and pull handsomely.
That said, Matt Parkinson did produce the latest entry into his bulging collection of snackable social media content with a beauty to remove Imam in the 26th over. The leg-spinner teased his left-handed opponent forward before getting the ball to spin sharply through the gate and light up the stumps.
From there Azam and Rizwan took charge with a crisp third-wicket stand of 179 in 20 overs. Azam manhandled Parkinson but the leg-spinner could have separated the pair when Rizwan was on 18, John Simpson missing a tough chance behind the stumps off the inside edge. On a day when six chances went to ground across the two innings, the 33-year-old wasn’t alone here at least.
Pakistan’s total was a curio after they had been 292 for two in the 46th over, the tourists losing seven for 37 as the impressive Carse profited and Mahmood claimed two in two. Amid this chaos came the demise of Azam, who received a standing ovation for a celestial innings of 14 fours and four sixes.
The start to England’s chase was equally eventful, Phil Salt cracking four fours off Shaheen Afridi’s opening over and Hasan Ali then starting with three wides before removing Dawid Malan, caught behind for a duck. That the replays showed no bat involved only added to the sense that, like much of the crowd, this match was becoming intoxicated.
The hosts were in no mood to calm things down. Salt crashed a 22-ball 37 before chipping Haris Rauf’s first ball to mid-wicket, while Zak Crawley struck a 34-ball 39 that allowed England to reach three figures in the 13th over – some 11 overs quicker than Pakistan’s batsmen after they had been inserted at the toss.
There were fears the aggression had gone too far after such a rocket-fuelled start, England losing five wickets by the halfway stage. Rauf detonated Crawley’s off-stump, while the leg-spinner Shadab Khan removed Stokes, caught behind on 32, and Simpson, lbw for three.
But in keeping with the team’s long-held mantra and a series that has defied expectations overall, Vince and Gregory refused to be cowed. Willis, who delivered some withering opinions about Vince during his time as a pundit and was never far from thoughts on the day, would surely have been impressed.