Less than 24 hours after training together for the first and only time, an emergency England side made light of chaotic circumstances to thrash Pakistan in the first one-day international at Cardiff.
With 16 first-choice players in isolation following a Covid-19 outbreak, and a handful of others out injured, a shadow squad was scrambled to contest the Royal London Series and responded with a magnificent nine-wicket win.
Lancashire seamer Saqib Mahmood seized the unexpected opportunity 10 months on from his last international appearance, taking two wickets in the first over of the day and finishing with career-best figures of four for 42 as the tourists crumbled to 141 all out.
A slender chase was devoured with unerring ease, Test regular Zak Crawley posting 58 not out in his first white-ball innings for England and Dawid Malan effortlessly compiling an unbeaten 68 as they needed less than 22 overs of the allocated 50.
Five debuts were handed out before the toss, with Crawley, Phil Salt, John Simpson, Lewis Gregory and Brydon Carse all inducted in a busy pre-match huddle, as England fielded a side boasting just 128 ODI caps. Of those, 98 belonged to stand-in captain Ben Stokes, rushing his recovery from injury to fill the leadership void.
Another six came from Mahmood, previously a dressing room rookie but now the side’s third most experienced performer.
England would have settled for a solid first over from him, but he produced a spectacular one. His first ball was quick, tight to the stumps and cramped Imam-ul-Haq just enough to trap the opener lbw on DRS.
That meant an early entrance for Babar Azam, the world’s number one ODI batsman, but he was soon making an early exit too.
His second ball from Mahmood had a hint of swing and just enough threat to demand attention, clip the edge and carry through to Crawley at slip. At nought for two, Pakistan had been rattled instantaneously.
Gregory had a tough act to follow at the other end but he quickly settled into a rhythm and hit the jackpot with his eighth ball, nicked in the channel by Mohammad Rizwan and sailing into the gloves of Middlesex stalwart Simpson.
When Mahmood pinned left-hander Saud Shakeel leg before from round the wicket to make it 26 for four, there was a faintly surreal hint of a rout.
Fakhar Zaman and Sohaib Maqsood briefly settled in, tripling their side’s score with a 53-run stand. Fakhar rolled his wrists on a couple of glorious pull shots off Craig Overton and Maqsood produced one audacious blow off the 90mph Carse, stepping away and pounding a flat six over extra-cover.
But their fightback ended in a calamitous run out, Maqsood (19) stranded after a poor call from his partner. Rather than atone for his error, Fakhar compounded it with another misjudgement that cost him his own wicket after a well-made 47.
Offered width by Matt Parkinson, he leant back and cut straight to point. The leg-spinner, who has totted up countless air miles and net hours with England since his last competitive outing in February 2020, drew a handful of mis-hits before Hasan Ali’s hack earned him a second success.
There were drops, Malan diving in the deep, Simpson standing up to the spin and Parkinson underneath a dolly, but the innings was still wrapped up in the 36th over. Mahmood added Faheem Ashraf to his career-best haul and Craig Overton took care of the last two to open his own ODI account.
The chase was was a gentle one but Salt, England’s first Wales-born player since Simon Jones in 2005, missed out.
He had seven when he aimed a big swing at the stirring left-arm pace of Shaheen Shah Afridi and edged to second slip.
There was no pressure to score quickly but when Malan peeled off four boundaries in the space of nine deliveries it nudged England’s powerplay score up to a lively 61 for one.
Crawley banked an early cover drive befitting of a Test specialist but showed a greater sense of adventure when lifting Faheem Ashraf over the top. The boundaries continued to flow, Crawley taking a liking to Haris Rauf and Malan visibly hungry for a score.
England reached 100 in the 16th over – 10 overs quicker than Pakistan for five fewer wickets – and Malan brought up his own half-century with a slice of luck, inside-edging a reverse sweep for four. Both batters moved smoothly past fifty, Malan at exactly a run-a-ball and Crawley even quicker.
The Kent man helped himself to the winning runs, steering to third man to wrap up a remarkable rout with balls remaining in the innings.