A nerve-shredding night in Nottingham ended with England victorious over Pakistan, sealing this pre-World Cup series with a match to spare thanks to a brutal century from Jason Roy and the ice-cool finishing of Ben Stokes.
Having restricted the tourists to 340 for six following four wickets for Tom Curran, England once again appeared to be cruising to their target with minimal fuss on what was yet another belting pitch at Trent Bridge.
Roy struck 114 from 89 balls, piling on 201 runs for the first two wickets as Pakistan’s fielding came apart at the seams. But when his departure in the 28th over triggered a collapse of four wickets in 22 balls, the fourth ODI suddenly turned into a dog fight.
Stokes, fresh to the crease, needed to show significant composure. Despite making 37 during Tuesday’s win at Bristol – his only innings of the series – the all-rounder had returned from the Indian Premier League down on form with both bat and ball.
He needed allies too. Joe Denly came first, adding 42 for the sixth wicket but falling victim to a superb caught and bowled from Junaid Khan on 17, before Curran hustled 31 runs in a stand of 61. The No8 enjoyed a stroke of fortune on six, however, when Sarfraz Ahmed failed to appeal for a run out, under the belief the stumps had already been broken by an initial direct hit. In fact, one bail remained and Curran, just short of his ground, should have gone under the laws.
With this pair’s support, Stokes compiled an unbeaten 71 from 64 balls – one of five fours and three sixes – steering England over the line for a three-wicket win with three balls remaining and Adil Rashid for company.
Jos Buttler, captaining the side to a 3-0 scoreline while Eoin Morgan served a one-match ban, said: “It was good to get there in the final overs. We were under pressure but Ben and Tom, that was a great partnership.”
On Curran, whose supporting role with the bat followed figures of four for 71, he added: “Every time something’s asked of him he comes up with the goods.”
Curran certainly came up with the goods in the first innings, repeatedly puncturing holes in the Pakistan batting lineup – including twice at the end – to push his case for Tuesday’s final World Cup squad. The identity of the fall guy is scarcely any clearer either, given Mark Wood also impressed with two strikes in his first outing since the Caribbean tour.
This related chiefly to Wood’s speeds, which topped 90mph three times in his first over and then sent Imam-ul-Haq off to hospital in his second when a lifter crashed into the opener’s elbow.
Photograph: Stu Forster/Getty Images
While his late dismissal of Shoaib Malik was bizarre – the veteran hit his own stumps attempting a late cut on 41– the removal of Mohammad Hafeez for 59 in the 37th over, clouting a rasping short ball to mid-on, was pivotal.
Hafeez and the elegant Babar Azam had put on 104 for the second wicket, having come together for the 21st over after Curran had removed Fakhar Zaman for 57. The pair should have gone harder, not least Babar who went 10 overs without a boundary before a tickle down leg for four brought up his ninth ODI hundred.
Coming from 104 balls, it was the slowest of seven ODI centuries in Nottingham in the past four years and needed some late thrust to compensate. This was not forthcoming, however, with a Curran slower ball leading to Jofra Archer holding a catch on the sweeper boundary.
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It is Archer’s emergence that has created England’s selectorial bottleneck. On a relatively quiet day for the newcomer he nevertheless combined with Wood for an average speed of 88mph in their initial eight overs – England’s fastest opening spell since the advent of speed guns – and removed the dangerous Asif Ali for 17.
Stokes was subdued with the ball while Rashid and Moeen Ali took some punishment (even if the latter was denied the wicket of his tormentor, Hafeez, when Buttler fluffed a stumping chance).
Denly was surprisingly the thriftiest on show, coming on in the opening power play and sending down five overs for 27.
Roy’s eighth one-day hundred looked to have broken the back of the chase. As well as scorching to three figures in 75 balls – bringing up his hundred with an astonishing backfoot punch for six over extra cover – he put on a 94-run opening stand with James Vince (in for the rested Jonny Bairstow) and 107 with Joe Root.
His eventual demise came when gloving down the leg side off the slippery Mohammad Hasnain and sparked England’s collapse. Root, already handed a life on 33, edged to short third man off Imad Wasim before the left-arm spinner had Buttler caught at short fine-leg for a second-ball duck when attempting a sweep.
When Moeen spooned a catch to mid-wicket trying to flay Shoaib to the rope third ball, England were suddenly 216 for five in the 31st over and in desperate need of a cooler head. Thankfully Stokes, not always known for this, delivered.