Alex Hales celebrated the end of his international exile with a crucial half-century as England’s first game in Pakistan for nearly 17 years ended in victory in the inaugural T20.
The fly-half completed 53 from 40 in his first England outing since March 2019, when he was dropped following a failed recreational drug test, and marked the end of his stay in the desert paving the way for a six-wicket success. .
England had previously done well to limit the hosts to 158 for seven in front of a sold-out crowd of 35,000 at the National Stadium in Karachi, with debutant Luke Wood claiming an impressive three for 24.
Hales, back in his old opening slot, took his team within 17 of the winning line and reached seven boundaries before going halfway through with the end in sight. Harry Brook finished the job with a fluid 42 not eliminated, including the four winners of the final.
Hales’ much-discussed comeback started small, with Naseem Shah slipping one to the keeper as he floated stiffly on the outside. He was more assertive next though, hitting his next ball through the cover spot for four.
Phil Salt, his rival for a place at next month’s World Cup, had gotten off to an even faster start when he hit the ropes on the first pitch of the set, but was brilliantly caught by Haider Ali after coming through a low blow.
Hales eased a few more limits through the covers as he settled back into a familiar rhythm, leading England to 47 for one at the end of the power play. Hales was involved in a pair of 34-point stands as the target fell steadily, only for Usman Qadir to end both.
Dawid Malan (20) was caught and thrown immediately after throwing the leg-spinner stripper for six and Ben Duckett made an enterprising 21 before falling lbw on the sweep.
A ball earlier, Hales had been given up long term by Shan Masood on the 28th and new man Brook had his own chance when an early chance to miss was missed. Hales looked relieved when he turned 50, enjoying a moment that would never have come had it not been for Eoin Morgan’s retirement or Jonny Bairstow’s freak injury, but went for a simple catch seconds later.
Brook ensured no drama, helping himself to seven fours in a dynamic 25-ball cameo.
Pakistan kicked off the game, with Mohammad Rizwan (68) and Babar Azam (31) cashing in on a lightning outfield. They particularly liked David Willey, who couldn’t extract his usual swing with the new ball, as he lost 26 from two expensive overs at the top.
The Lancashire Wood left-hander had a strong intro, allowing just 12 runs on his front two and handling a strangled call against Rizwan, but Pakistan cantered past 50 on the last ball of the sixth.
Rizwan welcomed the switch to rotation by sending Moeen Ali over his head for six, but the arrival of Adil Rashid did the trick as an overhand 10th skidded through the box and stowed Babar’s medium and stumps.
Pakistan never returned to their best after splitting their early games, scoring 71 and losing six wickets in the second half of innings. Rizwan was the key man, reaching his half-century on 32 with a slipped six over Rashid, but Haider beat Sam Curran.
When Rizwan was surprised by Moeen, who threw one after spotting the batter’s charge, England were ahead. Wicketkeeper Salt tried to rob another stump on the next delivery, hovering behind Iftikhar Ahmed after a wide call before kicking the sureties and appealing.
He looked unhappy when the umpires called the ball dead but didn’t work the point. He was reportedly still frustrated with Iftikhar’s 28 runs, including three sixes. He was eventually fired by Wood, who was given the innings final and responded with two late scalps.
The 27-year-old had already opened his tally by ripping Mohammad Nawaz’s stump.