Eoin Morgan says England's T20 progress 'exciting'

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England captain Eoin Morgan.

England Twenty20 captain Eoin Morgan Tuesday described his team’s progress in the shortest form of the game as “pretty exciting” but refused to get carried away despite sweeping Pakistan 3-0.

England won the third and final match in a thrilling Super Over finish after the regulation match was tied in Sharjah on Monday.

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The victory lifted England from a pre-series eighth position to fourth in the world Twenty20 rankings.

“I think we’re still in the development stage,” said Morgan. “But it’s pretty exciting, the acceleration of our learning curve is happening quite quickly because we’re winning, we’re growing in confidence, building momentum.

“We’re learning as much as we can from each other as opposed to back-tracking and learning from opposition the whole time.”

England had a miserable World Twenty20 competition in 2014 — losing three of their four games — and were also ousted in the first round of the 50-over World Cup this year.

But since then there have been signs of a transformation, said Morgan, who is also England’s one-day international captain.

“Not to get too carried away, I think this is the start of something. We’ve built a great base to start on, guys are contributing to performances all the time and it’s not easy to do when you’ve such a young side,” he said.

“When we started at the beginning of the summer, I reckon we had five guys who’d played less than ten games. Hopefully this time next year they’ll have played 30.

“It’s important we keep these 17-20 players together and get as much experience together as we can.”

Morgan said his team would stand a good chance in next year’s World Twenty20 in India if they do well on their tour of South Africa starting later this month.

“If we can take this form into South Africa and on from there, who knows? We’re in the best position we could be at the moment.

“We’re a very new side, we’ve only played five games together as a squad, but we’re in the best position we can be with our side,” said Morgan whose team have now won their last six Twenty20 matches.

“I think collectively as a group we’re quite exciting. We have 15 athletes, fitness is a priority of ours, we’re always striving to improve our fielding.

“I suppose the toughest thing we were going to encounter was the conditions, playing Pakistan on home soil is a very difficult task. We’ve countered that to a certain extent, but we haven’t played a complete performance throughout both series.”

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Hope springs eternal for valiant Pakistan

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Pakistan can still be positive despite losing to England in the UAE.

They may have lost the war but hope springs eternal. Or at least that’s what the team and the fans would like to believe. Pakistan’s futile but entertaining run chase in the final ODI against England, where their run rate was consistently in excess of seven over the forty and a bit overs they played, is now presented as Pakistan’s entry into modern ODI cricket. It was confirmation that the vow they made to separate themselves from the past is being followed.

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After being clean swept in Bangladesh the batsmen supposedly, on the instructions of coach Waqar Younis, decided that the era of rebuilding an innings was over; that they were playing a pre-T20 form of the ODI game even as the world had moved on, and then some. That them and England had to come to terms with how the 50 over game was played in 2015.  

One Pakistani player has talked about how the vow to attack relentlessly is now the gospel, and told to every batsman when he comes out to bat. And yet Pakistan finished the England series comfortably beaten in the Emirates, as has become the norm.

The reason for that was the same as the reason why the rebuilding Misbah had become such a constant – and a constant that truly did attract the extremes – in Pakistan’s recent ODI history.

Prior to the England series Pakistan won the ODI series in Sri Lanka to confirm their participation in the 2017 Champions Trophy, and they did so in a fashion rarely seen from Pakistan. Twice in that series they chased down totals in excess of 250 – Pakistan’s bete noire in recent years – with ease, and the two times they batted first they scored in excess of 285. Yet that came about not because of any particular change in strategy with wickets going down, but because, for once, the Pakistani top order fired.

The Sri Lanka series finished with each of the Pakistani top three (Azhar Ali, Ahmed Shehzad and Mohammad Hafeez) finishing among the top four run scorers, with only Kusal Perera sandwiching them. The two big chases that Pakistan succeeded in both had big, quick innings from the top order (a hundred from Hafeez in one, 95 from Shehzad in the other, both innings at quicker than run a ball). The reason Pakistan won the first ODI against England had to do with Hafeez’s fine form, and they competed in the fourth ODI because of the start they were provided by the top top three.  

It may seem a bit too obvious to even point it out but as Pakistanis fought over the scraps of a middle order batsman and a late order hitter the ODI world became even more biased towards teams with quality at the top of their order: Kohli, Sanga, Amla, Warner, Williamson – the who’s who of ODI cricket, beyond pure finishers, is defined by the top order batsmen (AB de Villiers is the exception to every rule).

For Pakistan that has rarely been an option. Scoring big has been a rarity – since the spot fixing scandal only Mohammad Hafeez has scored multiple hundreds while chasing for Pakistan, thus resulting in the tuk tuk of the middle order, failed attempts at trying to save inning. During this time period only West Indies and Zimbabwe’s top three (among Test playing nations) averaged less in ODI cricket batting second, incidentally these three are the lowest ranked ODI teams as well. It wasn’t even as if their low average was due to them trying to accelerate from the top: only Zimbabwe among the Test playing nations had a worse strike rate for its top three.

And it’s not as if they never reacted. Pakistan have conceded over 300 bowling first on eleven occasions in the past five years – their response run rate has been 5.53, reasonable enough to compete, but they’ve been bowled out in every one of those matches, only once going past the 46th over even. Thus the 4th ODI really wasn’t the turning of a new page, but rather the continuation of something Pakistan have done consistently in the past half a decade. The worrying thing for them might be that after only eight such instances in four and a bit years, they’ve had three under Azhar Ali already – a man struggling to get to grips with ODI captaincy.

Pakistan stars Azhar Ali (L) and Mohammad Hafeez (R).

Thus the decision that the team and Waqar made was long overdue. Pakistan could compete, survive, even win under Misbah but never dominate – it is the top order that does the dominance and Pakistan never really had one. Misbah’s constant support of Hafeez there, and lack of it in the latter years for Azhar is something that will haunt him as the years pass, but right now its these two who are leading the revolution. The change that has been there for Pakitan since the World Cup is that the top order attacks, and continues to attack – a revolutionary strategy which the rest of the world adopted twenty years ago.

Since the World Cup, which both of them missed, both Hafeez and Azhar are breaking the 40/80 barrier (average of 40, strike rate of 80), something that’s been impossible for any Pakistani batsman to do since Mohammad Yousuf. Even in the era of 50/90, Pakistanis are in a state where they can celebrate 40/80.

But there is a worry, and it was there in the England series. Despite numerous positive starts throughout the series, there was only one big innings for Pakistan – the contrast with the Sri Lanka series evident in the final scoreline. For all the talk of attacking relentlessly, the two examples of the Pakistan top order failing in this series did provide a window into what Pakistani batsmen had become used to – and where they kept on relying on Misbah’s stability and Afridi’s heroics to salvage the game. One bad start led to 50 for 5 in the 19th over, the other was saved by Mohammad Hafeez playing as he always likes to.

Thus, another home loss for Pakistan still resulted in hope springing eternal – because that’s better than realizing the incompetence continues.

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England beat Pakistan to win T20 series

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England players celebrate after the dismissal of Rifatullah Mohmand.

England prevailed with a ball to spare in their first ever Twenty20 super-over to complete a 3-0 series whitewash against Pakistan, and take their winning streak to six matches.

A thrilling initial encounter finished in a tie at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium, after Shoaib Malik’s career-best 75 took the hosts to the brink of victory in pursuit of England’s 154 for eight.

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Then Chris Jordan conceded only three runs, including two leg-byes to Shahid Afridi and Umar Akmal, allowing Eoin Morgan and Jos Buttler to seal the deal in an over from the home captain as the match finished 10 minutes before midnight local time.

Shoaib had transformed Pakistan’s initial chase as he and Afridi delighted a large home crowd in a sixth-wicket stand of 66.

But defending 10 in the final over, Chris Woakes – who had figured in a seventh-wicket partnership of 60 in 40 balls with James Vince – overcame being clubbed for six over long on by tailender Sohail Tanvir.

He then had Shoaib caught on the same boundary from what should have been the penultimate ball of the match, and a scrambled bye levelled the scores.

In England’s first patchy batting performance, after Morgan won the toss, Vince was starved of the strike throughout but top-scored with 46.

 David Willey took three for 36 in Pakistan’s reply. But Shoaib raced to his fourth Twenty20 International 50 in 39 balls, with four fours and two sixes, and Afridi typically hit three maximums in his 29 from 20.

 England had lost a wicket to the first ball of the match, Jason Roy falling to Twenty20 debutant Amir Yamin – and then after a second-wicket stand of 48 with Joe Root, it was not until Woakes came in at number eight that Vince had another lasting ally.

Opening for the first time, Vince was eventually caught in the deep from the penultimate ball of the innings – but like Woakes, he had hit a career-best by then.

Roy went instantly when Yamin nipped one back to have him lbw on the back foot – and after a second-wicket stand of 48, Joe Root missed an attempted big hit at Afridi, who brought himself on in powerplay.

 Moeen Ali departed for his second successive duck when he clubbed a pull back to the leg-spinner first ball.

Vince had survived on four when he too gave a return chance, Tanvir dropping his fourth catch in three matches.

The introduction of Shoaib was too much for Morgan – who, as in the ODI here two weeks ago, stayed leg-side of the ball from round the wicket and was bowled by a hint of turn.

When Jos Buttler ran himself out, and Sam Billings went to a very good juggling catch at midwicket, England were 86 for six in the 13th over.

But Vince did not panic, and Woakes turned support into dominance as 54 runs came in the last five overs.

He was dropped by Anwar Ali at third-man, skying a slower ball from Mohammad Irfan on 19, and responded by hitting his next delivery – from the errant fielder – for his second six, on to the roof of the stand at long-on.

Willey bowled four leg-side wides in his first over, but Pakistan still lost two wickets in it as well.

 Ahmed Shehzad was bowled on the charge, and then – in a near repeat of Umar Akmal’s comedy run-out in Dubai – Mohammad Hafeez went after a stand-off as he and Rafatullah Mohmand raced for the safe end.

Rafatullah shuffled across the crease to be lbw for a duck to Willey and at 11 for three Pakistan had made much of their own trouble.

 Adil Rashid and Moeen both soon found sharp turn, and the leg-spinner added a very good reaction caught-and-bowled to see off Mohammad Rizwan.

 Pakistan needed a round 100 off the last 10 overs, a tough task made no easier when Akmal was very well caught at deep midwicket by a tumbling Jordan off Moeen.

But Shoaib and Afridi, who got his team so close with some brilliant hitting in Dubai three nights ago, responded wonderfully.

Afridi was eventually bowled round his legs trying to sweep Willey and – although Shoaib continued with his neat deflections and fierce hitting – Jordan would have the final telling say in overtime.

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