Pakistan aim for lead against England as 5th T20I of seven-match series today

Author: Muhammad Ali

LAHORE: High on their thrilling victory in Karachi on Sunday night, skipper Babar Azam and his charges are aiming to take lead when they clash against visiting England in the fifth contest of the seven-match T20I series at Gaddafi Stadium here on Wednesday (today). The first leg of the home series, after a 17-years hiatus, comprising four matches, was played in Karachi, with each side bagging two wins to level the series. England won the first and third games while the home team won the second and fourth. Both Pakistan and England teams flew to Lahore on Monday from Karachi. The visitors play the remaining three matches on September 28, September 30 and October 2. All preparations have been finalised at the picturesque Gaddafi Stadium to host the remaining three matches in a befitting manner. The hosts’ nail-biting victory on September 25 at National Stadium made it even more memorable as it was Pakistan’s 200th T20I. They have become the first team to reach the milestone. England have never yet played a T20I at Gaddafi Stadium. In fact, there had been just three such matches globally when England last played any international fixture in Lahore, on the ODI leg of their 2005-06 tour.

Babar, who became the second-quickest batsman to 8,000 T20 runs during the ongoing series, can rewrite history today. The 27-year-old, who has two centuries in T20I cricket, is eyeing another massive feat which can pave the way for him to surpass India’s Virat Kohli in the shortest format of the game. Former Indian captain Kohli is the quickest batsman to complete 3,000 runs in the shortest format of the game. Kohli had achieved the feat in 81 innings for Team India. Babar has a chance to shatter Kohli’s record. He has smashed 2,939 runs in 79 innings. Thus, Babar needs to score 61 runs to upstage Kohli by achieving another massive feat in T20I cricket. Pakistan are likely to include Shadab Khan and Naseem Shah in the playing eleven to field a strong outfit against the tourists.

Two strips have been prepared for the Lahore leg of the series, which implies that the surface for today’s match will be the same as the one for seventh tie, with the alternate used in between whiles. Heavy rain yesterday meant that both teams cancelled training and therefore a chance to gauge conditions at this stage, although the pitch currently seems dry enough to warrant an extra spinner.

Injured skipper Jos Buttler unlikely to take part in Lahore leg matches: England stand-in skipper Moeen Ali is upbeat about England’s progress as they build towards the World Cup. “When we lost in the summer we were playing poorly. You are a bit more down about those results. It was disappointing result the on Sunday night but it was a great game of cricket. Okay, we lost, but I feel we are playing good cricket. We lost a lot of wickets in the powerplay but we managed to stay in the game until the very end,” Moeen said.

England coach Matthew Mott also said his players would be looking to win the series to take crucial momentum to the T20 World Cup in Australia. “We want to win this series as it’s important for us to get some momentum going in to the World Cup,” he said, adding that the seven-match series offered his side a chance “to tinker the team” ahead of the tournament. While England missed a golden chance to go ahead 3-1 in their series with Pakistan when they fell to a narrow three-run loss to the Asian side on Sunday, Mott said his team were continuing to face high-pressure games against quality opposition that will surely help them in the long run. “We couldn’t ask for better preparation than games like on Sunday against Pakistan where it’s all on the line with a couple of overs to go and players are under pressure,” he said. “To play in high-pressure situations in front of a big crowd that was right into the game is great. Yes, we would love to have won, but I think when you head into a World Cup, you want to play against good opposition in tough games and it’s been every bit of that.”

To a question, he said he won’t be taking any risks with injured skipper Jos Buttler so close to the start of the World Cup. Buttler is still battling the calf injury he picked up while playing domestic cricket in England and the star right-hander hasn’t played any international cricket since he featured against South Africa in a T20I in Southampton at the end of July. The 32-year-old has missed the opening four matches of England’s ongoing seven-game T20I series against Pakistan and Mott said there were no guarantees the skipper would see any action over the final three games. “With regards to Jos, he’s still a while off,” Mott said. “He’s not a player we want to take a risk on at this stage, so close to World Cup, and it was a reasonably significant injury that he had. He’s champing at the bit for a game but we’ll just try and see how we go. Maybe in the last game or two, he might be a chance.” Buttler’s availability for the T20 World Cup will be crucial to England’s fortunes, with the in-form opener finishing last year’s event as the fourth leading run-scorer.

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