Brilliant Bairstow sets up T20 decider
Jonny Bairstow’s terrific unbeaten 60 proved pivotal as England levelled the Twenty20 series against Pakistan with a convincing 38-run win in Dubai.
Bairstow, who struck 22 not out in Thursday’s eight-run defeat at this venue, mixed clean striking with exceptional shot selection to help the tourists to a healthy total of 150 for seven after Stuart Broad had elected to bat first.
His thrilling 46-ball knock - which evoked memories of the blistering cameo he produced on international debut - featured sweetly-timed strokes all around the wicket and ensured England built on a lively start provided by openers Kevin Pietersen and Craig Kieswetter, the only other batsman to make a significant contribution with 31.
The value of Bairstow’s innings was soon enhanced as Pakistan slumped to two for two and then 50 for five in reply.
Shahid Afridi, who top scored for Misbah-ul-Haq’s side with 25, and Hammad Azam briefly threatened to pull off a stunning fightback, but the innings quickly lost momentum following the latter’s departure for 21.
Pakistan were eventually dismissed for 112 with 10 balls unused, Steven Finn returning 3-30 and both Broad and Graeme Swann proving economical as they shared four wickets.
England’s victory ensures Monday’s game at Abu Dhabi - their final assignment of a two-month tour - will decide the outcome of the three-match series.
Pietersen swept the first ball of the match - from Mohammad Hafeez - past short fine-leg for four, and dominated an opening stand of 35 with Kieswetter, who initially struggled for fluency.
After easing to 17, Pietersen was caught at short fine-leg in the fifth over, playing a sweep to Saeed Ajmal’s second delivery.
Umar Gul - Pakistan’s hero with the ball two days ago - then struck with his second ball as Ravi Bopara played across an inswinger to be lbw for one, but back-to-back boundaries through the off side from Eoin Morgan helped England finish the mandatory powerplay on 46 for two.
The designated hosts soon had further reason to celebrate as Morgan was trapped lbw by Hafeez. Replays suggested he had been struck just outside the line of off stump, although the left-hander had been fortunate to survive a huge appeal for leg before from the previous ball.
Bairstow started confidently and collected fours on either side of the wicket off Afridi and Hafeez respectively before clearing the ropes with a magnificent straight six off the former.
An increasingly assured Kieswetter then picked up a maximum of his own, over deep midwicket, only to hole out to long-off from Afridi’s next delivery.
The dismissal did little to disrupt Bairstow, who registered his fourth boundary with an elegant straight-drive off Shoaib Malik before pulling the expensive Afridi for four more.
Ajmal also came in for punishment at the hands of Bairstow, although the off-spinner did run out Samit Patel, for 13, with a direct hit from deep backward square-leg as the all-rounder looked to come back for a second.
Jos Buttler once again succumbed to his favoured scoop shot when he missed a straight ball from Gul, and a well-disguised slower delivery from Aizaz Cheema - who replaced Junaid Khan in the solitary change to either side - accounted for Broad as Pakistan finished strongly in the field.
Bairstow remained England’s shining light, however, and moved to 50, from 42 deliveries, in the final over before pulling Gul over midwicket for another six.
Awais Zia was almost run out at the non-striker’s end from the first ball of the reply, and his opening partner Hafeez fell victim to the next delivery as he chased a wide one from Finn and edged to Pietersen at first slip.
Jade Dernbach then held on to a sharp return catch to dismiss Asad Shafiq and leave Pakistan reeling.
Twelve runs came from Finn’s next over, which was concluded with an agricultural six over long-on from the hyper-aggressive Zia, before Buttler spilled an opportunity at short midwicket to dismiss Umar Akmal, who responded by pulling Dernbach for four.
Umar also smashed Finn down the ground for six, but the tall paceman gained immediate revenge as Morgan accepted the sharpest of chances at backward point next ball.
Zia, meanwhile, was unable to get going and, after failing to connect with a succession of wild swipes, he picked out Dernbach at mid-off to give Broad his first wicket.
With the required run-rate continuing to rise, it was not long before Bairstow was back in the action, the 22-year-old making no mistake at deep midwicket after Malik had looked to take the attack to Swann.
Afridi provided hope of a revival, the enigmatic all-rounder launching Patel for an enormous six over long-on before collecting consecutive fours off the left-arm spinner.
Although Misbah fell in similar fashion to Malik, Bairstow once again completing the dismissal in the deep, Pakistan then gained further impetus as Azam also found the boundary with regularity from the start of his innings.
With 54 needed from 30 balls, England regained control through Bopara, who had Azam superbly caught at long-off for 21 by a tumbling Buttler in an over yielding just three.
Finn was hit for four and six by Gul, but then had the tailender caught by Kieswetter via a top-edge, before reacting swiftly in his followthrough to run out Ajmal without facing.
That left Afridi with too much to do, and he became Broad’s second victim when he spooned one high into the grateful hands of Morgan, running in from point.