When the usually understated Chris Woakes is impersonating Ian Botham’s finger-pointing jig from the 1992 World Cup during his wicket celebrations, and the captain, Eoin Morgan, is still agonising over his final squad with a day to go before the big reveal, you know things have gone reasonably well.
Indeed bar the Alex Hales affair last month, the world’s No 1 team could scarcely have wished for a better buildup towards this summer’s main event, one they now head into following a 4-0 series win over Pakistan wrapped up via a 54-run victory at Headingley. There are still 50-over warm-up matches against Australia and Afghanistan to be negotiated but in the final game that goes against their statistics before the World Cup, England were once again too good for their opponents.
Posting 351 for nine on a pitch that could easily have produced more than just a pair of half-centuries for Morgan and Joe Root, England knocked over the tourists for 297 in 46.5 overs. Woakes produced an incisive new-ball spell amid figures of five for 54, while another sprinkle of stardust in this doomed run chase came from Adil Rashid.
The Yorkshireman’s relationship with local supporters became strained last summer but here the Headingley crowd, while slightly thin by way of numbers, could scarcely contain its delight when Rashid produced two electric and match-changing interventions in the Pakistan innings.
After Woakes had wiped out three of the top four with his first 12 balls – and briefly turned into the Brummie Botham in response – Sarfaraz Ahmed and Babar Azam combined for a 146‑run stand; suddenly the tourists began to wonder whether a run of nine successive ODI defeats might be coming to an end.
But when Rashid produced a stunning no-look deflection on to the stumps to run out the latter for 80 and then soared to his left to produce a dazzling one-handed return catch off the new man, Shoaib Malik, the game was to all intents up.
With Jos Buttler running out Sarfaraz on 97 – a quasi-stumping of sorts after the Pakistan captain believed his late dab to have passed the wicketkeeper – and Woakes returning to complete his third ODI five-wicket haul, it all added up to a fine day’s work before thoughts turn fully towards South Africa at the Oval on 30 May.
Despite becoming the first ODI side to make four successive scores in excess of 340, and surpassing the ground record 339 for six they made against South Africa two years ago, England’s total here curiously disappointed a touch.
This owed much to losing six for 124 in the final 20 overs, even if Tom Curran’s 29 from 15 balls – an innings which began with a ramped six into the new Emerald Stand – added late impetus and underlined his all-round credentials before the selectors meet on Monday.
The World Cup tournament was on Morgan’s mind when he won the toss and went against his long-held preference to chase, claiming he wanted to replicate the challenge of being inserted. But he found Pakistan unwilling to oblige by way of new-ball threat, and so lacklustre in the field that James Vince and Jonny Bairstow flew out of the traps.
Both openers fell in the 30s, Vince top-edging Shaheen to deep square-leg and Bairstow caught at long-on trying to smear Imad Wasim’s left-arm darts down the ground. But from 105 for two in the 12th over, Root and Morgan kept up the momentum in a stand of 117.
Though nearly replaying Vince’s demise first ball, Root crackled with six fours from his first 14 deliveries. Morgan was keener on the aerial route, clearing the rope five times in his 64-ball 76 including one mighty pull on to the Rugby pavilion that will earn a local roofer a few bob in the coming days.
But after both set men fell to top-edges – Root slammed his bat into the ground in disgust after being caught on 84 – the England lower middle-order collapsed somewhat as Imad, unrattled by Morgan’s earlier assault, returned to pick up the wickets of Buttler and Moeen Ali in the space of three balls.
While Buttler looked in decent fettle for a run-a-ball 34, for Moeen, trapped lbw on the backfoot, it represented a second successive duck. Considering the form he struck in the Indian Premier League, England will hope these recent returns are merely a blip in keeping with the allrounder’s mercurial ways.
Both Woakes and David Willey fell prey to the returning Shaheen in the teens, while Ben Stokes scratched around for 21 before picking out long-on off Hasan Ali. England soon found themselves in control of the match, however, when Woakes, rested for Friday’s win at Trent Bridge, struck three times with the new ball.
Though he continues to manage a long standing knee injury, Woakes remains Morgan’s most productive bowler in the opening power play and here he wasted little time, finding the ideal length to tease an edge to slip off Fakhar Zaman third ball and then trap both Abid Ali and Mohammad Hafeez lbw in his second over.
His new-ball partner, Willey, went wicketless early on but at least did strike late. With Curran’s six overs returning none for 40, neither man can be said to have nailed down his World Cup spot during this final audition.