On a broiling day at Headingley, when you could have fried not only an egg but a full chicken on the stone steps of the Western Terrace, preconceptions were spun on their head. England’s spinners outbowled Pakistan’s and Moeen Ali, so often a forlorn figure in an England shirt, finished player of the match, fizzing with the bat and collaring two wickets.
It was another new-look England team, this time without Eoin Morgan, who dropped himself, and stacked full of spinners, including two leggies for the first time that anyone could remember – Adil Rashid was back, to mentor Matt Parkinson. Jos Buttler also returned, wearing the captain’s armband, and Chris Jordan.
Astonishingly, this was the first international T20 held at Headingley, and the ground was a sell-out, with a sea of Pakistan shirts walking up the terraced streets and the flag seller doing a roaring trade in the lime and green outside the gate. And the names of Saqib Mahmood, Rashid, Moeen – as well as Jonny Bairstow – received trumpets rather than pantomime boos from the Pakistan supporters.
Babar Azam won the toss and decided to have a bowl, possibly to the bewilderment of the bowlers, forced out as the early afternoon sun cooked the sons and daughters of West Yorkshire, and the batsmen who had done so well going first on Friday night.
The Headingley boundaries were not as friendly as those at Trent Bridge, but that wasn’t a concern for Jason Roy who launched into Imad Wasim’s second ball and slogged it for six. The third crossed the boundary as well, before Roy risked one life too many and was caught at backward point.
When Dawid Malan, whose T20 form for Yorkshire at Headingley has been flaky, top-edged Imad to short third man, England were 18 for two in the third over and in a spot of trouble.
But not this England. Buttler was joined by Moeen, who was resplendent in orange boots. It was just the second time Moeen had batted in the top four for England in T20 internationals since the World T20 in 2016. And what a concoction of gorgeousness he produced: one of those – brief – innings, when everything fell into place. When the near caught-and-bowleds fell inches from the bowler, when the edges flew past the fielders, when the loose drives hit the rope.
Lofted square drives, cuts; four boundaries in one over from Haris Rauf. He had just reached his zenith with a one-kneed slog-sweep for six before he holed out to mid-off, 36 off 16 balls. All the while Buttler was hitting big and bold, reaching his 50 off 33 balls before he too fell, belting the ball straight to Babar at cover, who was driven backwards by the force of the shot.
But the biggest hitting was yet to come. Liam Livingstone, once again, who hit the ball out of the ground twice – one soaring up and over the three tiers, and the wavy roof, of the enormous Emerald Stand and into the rugby ground, before being run out, possibly befuddled by his own brilliance.
Babar and Mohammad Rizwan started Pakistan’s chase as they had at Trent Bridge, both ruthless and glorious. But once Babar fell to his nemesis Mahmood, nicely caught by Malan falling forward on the edge of the circle, the momentum dropped.
Buttler beckoned for Moeen, whose first over was pinged for 15, before – rub your eyes – leg-spinners were bowling from both ends: Yorkshire and Lancashire, discerning googlies and great fat leg-breaks.
Pakistan were halted in their tracks, unable to flex the rope, and Sohaib Maqsood was nonplussed by Rashid and had his bails snapped off by Buttler, before Rashid pulled off an astonishing caught and bowled, diving to his right in the face of a Rizwan drive and scrumping the ball from nowhere.
When Moeen snaffled two wickets in his second over – Mohammad Hafeez well-held at backward square leg by Bairstow staring into the sun, and then drifting a ball into Fakhar Zaman’s stumps, the writing was on the wall.
Azam Khan swung wildly, missed, and was stumped off Parkinson’s final ball – a richly deserved wicket – and the superb Mahmood hoovered up the rest as a 45-run victory ensued. The decider is at Old Trafford on Tuesday.