By Anurag Hegde | Head of Sport
In an incredible turn of events, with just days to go for the ODI series between England and Pakistan, the entire English cricket squad was required to self-isolate after 7 members tested positive for Covid-19. Rather than cancelling or rescheduling the games, the ECB decided to make a bold move by assembling a completely fresh squad within the next 18 hours. England stalwart Ben Stokes, who was recovering from a finger injury he sustained at the IPL earlier this year, was recalled to national duty earlier than expected and was asked to lead the new team.
England’s cricket squad, comprising of as many as 9 uncapped players, were faced with the challenging task of having to go up against a full-strength Pakistan team in 3 ODIs. The 18-member English squad featured players like Test-specialists Zak Crawley and Dan Lawrence, and returning players like James Vince and Dawid Malan, among others.
It’s safe to say that the squad, nicknamed ‘Ben’s Babes’ (considering Stokes was the only member of the squad who’d played more than 20 ODIs), exceeded expectations when they claimed a comprehensive 9-wicket victory over the visitors at the SWALEC Stadium in Cardiff. After winning the toss and electing to field first, England managed to bowl Pakistan out for a paltry 141. Leading the attack was Lancashire paceman Saqib Mahmood who recorded career best figures of 4-42 from his 10 overs. The chase was not even a contest as both Zak Crawley and Dawid Malan notched up fifties to lead England to a clinical victory.
The troupe moved to Lord’s – The Home of Cricket – next, where Ben’s Babes put up another impressive show. After being asked to bat first, England found themselves in trouble at 160/6 in the 28th over. However, Lewis Gregory and Brydon Carse led England’s miraculous recovery as they ended up posting a par total of 247. The duo’s 69-run partnership for the 8th wicket proved to be the all-important difference maker as England went on to win the game by 52-runs after another Pakistani batting collapse.
Having already gained an unassailable 2-0 lead in the cricket series, England arrived in Edgbaston full of confidence and looking to whitewash the visitors. After being put into bat first, Pakistan’s batting unit showed a lot more resistance this time around. Led by captain Babar Azam’s 158, the visitors set England a mammoth 332-run target. Faced with the challenge of scaling the massive total, England’s top-order came out all guns blazing and scored 79 runs for the loss of just one wicket in the first powerplay. However, Pakistan’s fiery pace attack ensured that all of Phil Salt, Zak Crawley and Ben Stokes did not convert their starts into big scores.
England once again found themselves in dire straits at 165/5 after 23.3 overs, still needing still needing 167 runs to win. It was Gregory once again who was involved in a crucial 129-run stand with James Vince. Vince, who up until that point was an unproven commodity in ODI cricket, shouldered most of the responsibility and notched up his maiden ODI ton. Gregory too brought up his maiden ODI fifty before the both of them fell with England on the brink of victory. Thereafter, Craig Overton and Brydon Carse ensured that England secured the win without any more hiccups. What was considered a second-string England line-up achieved the massive feat of whitewashing their opponents.
Lewis Gregory claimed his second consecutive Player of the Match award while Saqib Mahmood bagged the Player of the Series award for his 9 wickets in the series. With the entire first choice XI being unavailable, England showcased their bench-strength and showed everybody why they are the Number-1 cricket team in the format.
The two teams square off again in a T20I series starting on Friday, June 16. Regular limited-overs skipper Eoin Morgan returns to lead a much more familiar looking 16-member squad.
England’s squad for T20I series against Pakistan: Eoin Morgan (C), Moeen Ali, Jonny Bairstow, Jake Ball, Tom Banton, Jos Buttler (WK), Tom Curran, Lewis Gregory, Chris Jordan, Liam Livingstone, Saqib Mahmood, Dawid Malan, Matt Parkinson, Adil Rashid, Jason Roy, David Willey