The lines are becoming blurred as to England’s strongest white-ball team but it looks certain that Liam Livingstone will be part of their assault on the T20 World Cup later this year after an astonishing, record-breaking century against Pakistan.
Livingstone’s 103 from 43 balls was not enough to claim victory in the first Twenty20 international as England fell 32 runs short in their pursuit of 233 at Trent Bridge; Babar Azam registered a typically classy 49-ball 85 as Pakistan made 232 for six batting first, before his bowlers held their nerve at the back end of a six-hitting contest.
The Lancashire all-rounder nevertheless delivered a telling message to Eoin Morgan on the day the World Cup groups were announced, first breaking the captain’s record for the fastest half-century in the format – requiring only 17 balls – and later launching Shadab Khan over the rope for the ninth time to secure England’s fastest century in any format.
This was just the 42nd delivery Livingstone had faced on the night – four quicker than Jos Buttler’s 46-ball century during an ODI against the same opposition in Dubai in 2015 – while in Twenty20 cricket it also eclipsed the 48-ball century Dawid Malan plundered against New Zealand at Napier in late 2019.
With 50 required off the final 22 deliveries and Livingstone’s bat positively glowing there was still hope of England pulling off their highest successful run chase. This was not to be, however, Shadab exacting his revenge the very next ball when the right-hander stuck one down the throat of Shaheen Shah Afridi and was forced to trudge off the field.
From 183 for seven England eventually subsided to 201 all out and Pakistan had secured their first victory of the tour for a 1-0 series lead. Shadab, bowling a mixture of leg-spin and off-breaks, finished with figures three for 52, while Afridi picked up three for 30. On a day when every bowler was clobbered, Mohammad Hasnain’s one for 28 was a triumph.
Morgan was true to his word about experimenting with selection – even if his preference to chase when winning a toss remains – with short-form regulars Adil Rashid and Chris Jordan benched and Jos Buttler still unfit after a recent calf injury.
It meant chances for Saqib Mahmood, Matt Parkinson and Lewis Gregory – all success stories from the reserve side’s 3-0 victory in the one-day internationals – when the teams stepped out from the old pavilion and flamethrowers blazed away around the outfield.
Both the boundary dimensions and the pitch looked unforgiving and for the first 14 overs the pyrotechnics lit up solely for fours and sixes, Azam and Mohammad Rizwan (63 from 41 balls) putting on a 150-run opening stand as Morgan kept shuffling his attack to no avail.
Azam, fresh from Tuesday’s sparkling century at Edgbaston, flew out of the traps as Rizwan played the percentages and after 46 runs from the opening power-play, and Parkinson’s first two overs thereafter costing just 11 runs, both tucked into the leg-spinner.
Gregory and Livingstone shared fifth bowler duties – Moeen rather lucked out by once again failing to catch the captain’s eye – and it was the former who finally broke through with a slower ball. Rizwan had stepped on the gas, his half-century coming one quicker than Azam’s off 34 balls, only to cloth an uppercut to Jonny Bairstow behind the stumps.
It should have been two in two for the all-rounder, Bairstow grassing a simple edge off Sohaib Maqsood’s first ball. From there the right-hander delivered the first of three telling cameos, his nine-ball 17 followed by Fakhar Zaman (26 from eight) and Mohammad Hafeez (24 from 10); between them they cleared the rope some eight times.
Amid the carnage the prized scalp of Azam was delivered by Willey, the right-hander finally edging behind and England successfully reviewing after umpire David Millns declined their appeals. A second T20i century had evaded Pakistan’s captain but it was still the innings that the passionate army of green shirts in the crowd had turned up to see.
Tom Curran was statistically the pick of the attack with two strikes and 10 dot balls, while Mahmood came back well after back-to-back sixes from Zaman – the first swatted into the upper tier of the Radcliffe Road Stand – by snuffing out the left-hander in the final over.
But by this stage Pakistan had secured their highest total in the format and though Jason Roy delivered a typical breakneck start to the chase, smashing 32 from 13 balls, and Livingstone went into overdrive from No5 after arriving at 48 for three in the fifth over, the regular fall of wickets and some tigerish fielding from the tourists proved decisive.