A glorious late flourish from Moeen Ali just failed to take England to victory at Old Trafford as Pakistan won a last-over thriller by five runs to tie the three game T20 series 1-1. Suddenly the magic was back, that moon dust fizzing in his palms.
After the game, Moeen’s relief was obvious, despite the defeat, the management skills of Eoin Morgan, who had encouraged him up the batting order and asked him to do the team talk, clear.
“He gives me a lot of confidence,” Moeen said. “I haven’t played well for a good period of time now and for my captain to think highly of me, for me that means a lot.
“It’s been very hard. It’s more the mental thing. I had to shift my mental state before this game, to try to play like it’s my first few games for England again. Be like that enthusiastic kid I was when I first played … Even today was such a battle … You kind of lose that I guess.”
An unchanged England had won the toss and chased Pakistan’s reputable 190 for four, decorated by a fancy-dan debut from Haider Ali and more grizzled ruthlessness from Mohammad Hafeez.
Light roller applied, the England innings had lasted all of three balls before Shaheen Shah Afridi bowled Jonny Bairstow for a duck with a 90mph yorker arriving out of the blackness of the Statham end, his off stump flying, the flashing bails as scolding as a teacher’s red pen.
He greeted the incoming Tom Banton with the words, “I didn’t see it”. Not reassurance, exactly, but then Banton is not the type for a consoling arm. He sniffed and slammed Imad Wasim for four off three consecutive balls.
But the hiccups continued. Dawid Malan swept Imad into the ink, Eoin Morgan was run-out by a combination of stonewalling from Banton and a lightning pick up and throw from Babar Azam. Then Banton was caught with his legs in front by Haris Rauf, whose wide-legged appeal was reminiscent of Shoaib Akhtar at his pomp.
Sam Billings and Moeen scuffled for runs, until Moeen laid into Shaheen with a nonchalant six to a ball out of the slot, whipped over mid off. Billings had a wild swing and was caught at third man but on Moeen charged. Three sixes in four balls followed off Shadab Khan but, running out of time and partners, he was caught and bowled by Wahab Riaz and the tail failed to find the fizz to finish the job.
Haider was nerveless on his international debut. Only 19, he started playing hard-ball cricket in 2016 and made his first-class debut last September.
A frown of a moustache visible through his helmet, he lolloped to the crease after Moeen had bowled Fakhar Zaman with enough zip to flip the bails up in the air, his first wicket of the summer. Haider eyed up Moeen for one ball, then bowed the front knee and slammed him soaring over long on for six off his second.
Ian Bishop had previously compared Haider to Babar and Babar showed his hand in the next over by toasting Saqib Mahmood for three consecutive fours but was bowled for 21. Haider was unfazed.
On he went, wristy sixes on the legside, stylish on the offside and quick singles. Adil Rashid’s first ball was slipped behind square; a six soared over Billings stranded in front of the deep midwicket boundary. When eventually he was bowled by Chris Jordan, he smiled as he was patted on the head by Hafeez as he passed the non-striker’s end. Another starlet from the endless Pakistan production line.
Hafeez, who may be 20 years older but who smacks his lips at this England bowling, made an unbeaten 86 off 52 balls to become the oldest player to make consecutive T20 fifties. Full toss? Pah! He slammed Tom Curran over the stands. Legspin? Dinnertime. Rashid was pummelled just short of the executive boxes in the pavilion.
And so, after what must seem lifetime in the biobubble, Pakistan fly home with a sweet and final victory and the thanks of cricket fans round the world for enlivening this strangest of English summers with their particular brand of wonder.