For Pakistan, T20 international cricket is about the thrill of the chase. Since Rizwan was promoted to bat in December 2020, Pakistan have won 15 matches and finished second, losing only three. When batting first, they won as many games as they lost (10 each).
At the break of the innings, the 200 target looked a daunting task, even on a pitch where the average score was high and where three out of five chases were successful. Pakistan’s bowlers were expensive but the ball was sliding at low pitch, while slower balls seemed to catch on from long-on. “I thought it was a very good point,” said England captain Moeen Ali.
But chasing a big point on Thursday night helped provide clarity of thought. Rizwan started brightly, hooking two for four from the first four balls and slog-sweeting David Willey for a six, but he got two early lives: on 23, he was dropped by off-spinner Alex Hales and on 32, he was bowled. Adil Rashid, however, missed a crucial chance for Phil Salt to stumble.
Babar was a slow starter and scored half-centuries off 39 balls, nine more than Rizwan. They piled on steadily after the power play, but with eight overs to go, the required figure rose to exactly two runs a ball, with Liam Dawson reeling for just 26 runs in four overs.
“We don’t hear outsiders taking shots. There’s always going to be criticism, and if you don’t do well, people are waiting to hit you. The fans always support us.”
But the 13th round was the turning point, as Baber sensed an opportunity to take down Moyne and seized on it. Often batting cautiously against spin in this format, he doubled his tally of offspin to six in his T20I career by trapping Moeen on the midwicket and the barbed wire fence separating the fans from the field of play twice.
After Babar dismissed Moeen’s fifth ball, Rizwan swept the sixth for a six. The previous over had 21 runs, and the required rate dropped to 10.71. “I feel like I actually lost the game,” Moeen later said. “It was a gamble, almost to buy a wicket, but it clearly didn’t work. It’s time Pakistan won the game.”
Suddenly Babar was in control, dismissing Sam Curran with fine leg and even smacking Adil Rashid’s eager midwicket with venom to secure a point for the asking men. After an unusually lopsided Asia Cup, Babar is back in the box seat.
On 91, Willie swings it to deep midwicket, only for Curran to catch the ball over the ropes for a six. “Babar, Babar!” The crowd roared in unison as he advanced Curran to the covers with a single, the first man to hit multiple T20I hundreds for Pakistan.
At that stage, Rizwan was playing second fiddle but could not contain his excitement. He punched the air as he ran for the keeper’s edge for a single, then gave him a hug that was two parts pride and one part relief. Karachi stands to celebrate a masterful innings by Lahore’s favorite son.
Three days ago, Babar walked into the press conference room at the National Stadium and faced the local media, demanding answers to his poor performance and criticizing Pakistan’s method of playing every shot in what looked like an endurance test in contrast to England’s batting competition. Pass the baton to the next. He returned with confidence, knowing that he had closed some of them.
“We don’t listen to what comes from outside,” he said. “There is always criticism, and if you don’t do well, people are waiting to kick you. The fans always support us. In sports, every day is different, and ups and downs, the fans stand by you. Regardless of the performance, the support we have received is outstanding.
This is the fifth time Babar and Rizwan have put on a 150-plus partnership. They have opened together 31 times in T20Is and their bond is so strong that sometimes they don’t even bother to call for runs. “This reflects the level of trust between us,” Baber said.
“We have chased big sums in the past,” he added. “We plan to play accordingly, and we plan when to pay and when to slow down. The execution of that plan has been brilliant. When you have a target in front of you, you play accordingly and you shift gears accordingly.”
Moeen had no choice but to throw his hands up and admit that England had been soundly beaten. “I know they get a lot of criticism about their strike, but I’ve never seen any problems,” he said. “Rizwan went down to a flyer and Babar took a bit of time, but nobody could stop him. They are good players.”
In the year Pakistan did not play a single T20 international when England last toured this country in 2005. After 17 years, criticizing the short-term organization has become a thing of the past. Time will tell if this tactic can win Pakistan the World Cup, but on nights like these, it’s hard to believe much can go wrong.
Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98