LAHORE: Pakistan and England will dive straight into action when they clash in the first of the remaining three Twenty20 Internationals of the seven-match series here at the Gaddafi Stadium after the teams’ practice sessions were cancelled due to rain on the eve of the match on Tuesday.

The series is evenly poised at 2-2 after the first four games in Karachi, three out of which saw lopsided results before the thrilling fourth fixture ended in Pakistan’s favour.

After how England lost the match after Liam Dawson’s blistering knock brought them in touching distance in pursuit of 167, the visitors would have preferred to work on their shortcoming in the only practice session scheduled ahead of the Lahore leg.

Pakistan, on the other hand, would have been eager to give all-rounder Shadab Khan a net practice session, with the leg-spinner expected to be a part of the playing XI for the first time in the series.

Both teams, however, will avoid ruing the missed opportunities to prepare and focus on what matters; the game itself, with no rain expected until the final match of the series on October 2.

There will be some work to do for the ground staff at the iconic venue though, which hardly endured 45 minutes of heavy rain, which started at around 3pm on Tuesday, leaving the playing field swamped, eventually forcing the cancellation of the practice sessions, which were scheduled for four hours later.

According to weather predictions, the sun will shine bright on the Gaddafi Stadium’s square before Pakistan and England take on each other in the evening.

“There can be slightly different conditions [in Lahore], but we are expecting matches to be similar to the ones we played in Karachi,” Pakistan all-rounder Mohammad Nawaz said in a video interview on the Pakistan Cricket Board’s social media accounts ahead of the match.

Nawaz bagged three England wickets in the fourth T20 but his performance was overshadowed by Haris Rauf’s extraordinary show under pressure in the penultimate over, with the fast-bowler claiming danger man Dawson and Olly Stone’s wicket before Shan Masood ran out Reece Topley to confirm Pakistan’s win with four balls to spare.

“The way Pakistan fought hard to defend a rather low total of 166 in the last match in home conditions and in front of Pakistani fans is good for Pakistan cricket,” said the left-arm spinner.

Pakistan head coach Saqlain Mushtaq, skipper Babar Azam and few other players have talked about how the ongoing series was about finding the perfect batting and bowling combination for the side ahead of next month’s T20 World Cup in Australia. Nawaz, however, believed a series win will help Pakistan go into the T20 showpiece with a lot of confidence.

“The result of the series is also important if you keep the upcoming World Cup in mind,” he said.

“When you win it gives you confidence and that will be good before the World Cup.

“We are also testing different combinations and if we also win the series, that would be perfect.”

Nawaz has bowled at an economy of eight runs per over in the series so far and is one of the better bowlers in terms of defending runs. The 28-year-old said keeping his approach “simple” and sticking to the basics had helped him put on a good show against the highly aggressive England batters.

For the visitors, the series has been about testing their strength in depth in the absence of mainstays Ben Stokes and Liam Livingstone, who will return for the World Cup. The England team management must be happy with the performance of the likes of young middle-order batters Harry Brook and Ben Duckett.

The 50-over world champions, with the youngsters firing, will also not need to rush back captain Jos Buttler, who is recovering from a calf injury that he picked up during The Hundred last month.

The depth in the visitors bowling attack is also commendable, with their top pacer Mark Wood playing just one game in the series so far and stunning the Pakistan batters with his pace — clocking 156mph during the third T20 in Karachi, which saw he bag three victims including Babar.

England have a range of fast bowling options to pick from, including Stone, Luke Wood, David Willey and all-rounder Sam Curran.

Pakistan, on the other hand, will want to see their middle order finally fire. The hosts have been heavily reliant on the opening pair of Babar and Mohammad Rizwan, which led them to a 10-wicket victory by chasing down 200 in the second T20 and put up partnerships of over 80 runs in the first and fourth games.

The best performance from the side’s middle order so far has been Shan’s 66 in losing cause the third T20. With pacer Mohammad Hasnain getting plundered for 24 runs in the 18th over by Dawson in the previous match, Pakistan might bring back Naseem Shah for the Lahore fixtures, with the right-armer spearheading the side’s attack in the absence of Shaheen Shah Afridi. Shadab is likely to replace leg-spinner Usman Qadir.

Published in Dawn, September 28th, 2022

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