Imam-ul-Haq’s career-best 151 was reduced to a footnote as Pakistan were powerless in preventing the highest-ever ODI chase in England.
The chief architect of the destruction was Jonny Bairstow, who smashed 128 off 93 balls. His hundred came off 74 balls, and yet was still only his fourth-quickest in ODIs.
The Yorkshireman was ably supported by Jason Roy, who blazed 76 off 55, their opening partnership eventually cut off at 159 in the 18th over when Roy was cramped by a Faheem Ashraf short ball and cut to point.
Joe Root scored with a similar freedom, taking up the mantle after Bairstow chopped on off Junaid Khan, before picking out mid-off off Imad Wasim. With Moeen Ali, Eoin Morgan, and Ben Stokes, who was unluckily run out at the non-striker’s as a Moeen straight drive ricocheted off Shaheen Afridi’s ankle, also chipping in with useful cameos, Pakistan never looked likely to defend their hefty total.
Their cause wasn’t helped by numerous dropped catches, with Roy shelled on 21 by Shaheen just as England were getting going, and Moeen put down in the covers and at point when Pakistan were attempting to claw their way back into the contest.
The simplicity with which England eased to their target emphasised how the nature of ODI cricket has changed, and also how the hosts own fortunes have reversed since the 2015 Men’s Cricket World Cup. That they were unfazed by the task ahead of them and unwilted by the assault Pakistan’s batsmen meted out demonstrated why many consider them World Cup favourites.
It had been some assault, containing the highest ODI score by a Pakistan batsman against England courtesy of Imam. He had to contend with the early losses of Fakhar Zaman and Babar Azam, who both fell to Chris Woakes. The former was caught by Root at slip after a juggle, and the latter was bowled by a beauty which nipped in and hit the top of off stump.
England’s ability to strike regularly was also a difference between the sides, though their next breakthrough came about in unusual fashion, Tom Curran sidefooting onto the stumps to run out Haris Sohail after Imam had called him through for a quick single.
Sarfaraz Ahmed skied to Chris Jordan off Liam Plunkett after a sluggish start, but the rest of Pakistan’s batsmen scored freely, with Asif Ali striking another quick half-century to further stake his World Cup claims, Imad plonking 22 off 12, and even Shaheen biffing a straight six.
The star however was Imam, who ghosted silently to his century at better than a run a ball before exploding, moving to his 150 from 100 in 31 balls before being bowled by a Curran yorker. He had done enough to set England what would be their second-highest ODI chase. And yet, in these times, it seemed like just par, and in the end, England made a mockery of the ask.