Fri, 20 Sep 2019

Imam-ul-Haq's 151 steers Pakistan to commanding 358-9

ESPNCricInfo
15 May 2019, 04:42 GMT+10

Innings break Pakistan 358 for 9 (Imam 151, Asif 52, Woakes 4-67) v England

The main reason for Pakistan surpassing expectations and posting 360 in the previous ODI was said to Fakhar Zaman finally firing after an extended barren run. That analysis was dismantled in true Pakistan fashion in Bristol after the visitors racked up the runs again and setting England 359 to win. And it all happened after Fakhar had been dismissed inside the first over, reverting to recent form and nicking the fourth ball he faced off Chris Woakes into the slips for a simple catch.

Pakistan's commanding total owed thanks mainly to Fakhar's more consistent (but less explosive) opening partner Imam-ul-Haq, whose splendid innings of 151 formed the backbone of the innings. Having lost Fakhar and, shortly after, Babar Azam to a brilliant spell of opening bowling from Woakes, Imam consolidated with the maturity of a seasoned professional with Haris Sohail at the other end, crucially ensuring Pakistan maintained a healthy run rate on a small ground and an excellent surface for batting.

England may bemoan an opportunity missed with the pressure firmly on Pakistan following the two early blows, but that would overlook the assuredness with which Haris batted alongside Imam to dig Pakistan out of that hole. He was off from the moment he dispatched Woakes for two fours in the following over, and sent Willey - who conceded 86 in his full quota - out of the attack with consecutive boundaries to kick off the tenth. With Imam at the other end deftly turning over the strike with his wrists allowing him to find consistent singles, Haris seemed to be batting Pakistan back into the ascendancy, while at the same time making a watertight case for his inclusion in the World Cup squad.

A moment of carelessness may yet cost him, though. With the partnership standing at 68 and Haris having raced to 41, he cantered through for a single that was best run hard. Tom Curran sprinted the length of the pitch and sidefooted the ball, which cannoned into the stumps, replays showing Haris making no effort to stretch his bat into the crease. It cost him his wicket at a crucial time, and allowed England a toehold back into the match.

Sarfaraz Ahmed promoted himself up to No. 5, but wasn't able to find the impeccable timing Haris had displayed. Imam, however, had found another gear, preventing the innings from stalling through the middle overs. Stokes, whose effectiveness in this period of the innings has diminished in the past 18 months, was subject of the most consistent aggression from Pakistan, and four overs that conceded 34 later, he was taken out of the attack. His replacement, Liam Plunkett, provided the breakthrough off just his second delivery, the Pakistan captain beaten all ends up by a slower delivery that he skied to deep fine leg.

Asif Ali came in at six and immediately put the spotlight on the selectors' decision to leave him out of the preliminary squad again. Moeen Ali was lofted into the sightscreen to get him going, and from there onwards, Asif got stuck in. Pakistan's run rate picked up in a partnership that amassed 125 runs in 90 balls, with Asif posting a career-best 52 off 43, his second half-century in as many games. It was a time England were guilty of not hitting their lengths as effectively as they had in the death overs in Southampton, and Imam and Asif were in touch too good to miss out.

Imam wasn't taking a backseat by any means, though, his thoughts having squarely turned to his sixth ODI hundred. Plunkett was worked away for successive boundaries to move Imam through to the 90s, and a whip off the pads got him through to three figures. It was then that he properly cut loose, smashing the final 51 runs off 35 balls. The feisty cockiness that endears and enrages so many in Pakistan had found its way back into his game, a kiss blown in Willey's direction following a tonked six over long-on unlikely to have enamoured him to the Bristol crowd.

But England struggled to find the discipline they had managed in the final overs the previous game. Imad Wasim came and went but 22 off 12 had done some damage, and Hasan Ali found Willey - the hero of the final stages at the Ageas Bowl - bowling right into his arc in a final over that cost 16 and powered Pakistan to within three runs of their total in the second ODI. England may have the most feared power hitters in the world at present, but chasing 359, even in this day and age, will require them at their best, especially if Pakistan's bowlers hit their straps.

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