Jos Buttler’s England pulled off a thrilling, series-clinching three-run win over Pakistan in his first match as captain.
In a contest lacking a half-century, but no shortage of late drama, England eked out 172-8 and then Yorkshire’s Liam Plunkett (3-33) recovered his composure as he and Chris Woakes ensured Pakistan fell just short at the last to lose their second match in successive nights at the Dubai International Stadium.
England therefore have an unassailable 2-0 lead in this tour-ending Twenty20 series, with only Monday’s fixture in Sharjah remaining.
Buttler, replacing the rested Eoin Morgan on his return to the scene of his record-breaking 46-ball one-day international century a week ago, won the toss only for James Vince’s 38 to prove England’s modest top score.
A highest stand of 35 between Vince and Buttler also told its own piecemeal tale of a stop-start innings, which featured nine sixes but barely broke par as Shahid Afridi (3-15) held sway.
He brought himself on inside the powerplay and struck immediately when Alex Hales went back and aimed to leg, but missed one that skidded on to be lbw to the leg-spinner’s first ball.
In his next over Afridi got rid of another opener, Jason Roy aiming to leg too, but getting a faint under-edge to juggling wicketkeeper Sarfraz Ahmed.
Afridi could not stay out of the game and was the catcher when Yorkshire’s Joe Root – one ball after depositing Shoaib Malik into the midwicket stand with a slog-sweep – aimed in the same direction again, but could not get past the ring.
Vince was dropped at long-on by Sohail Tanvir on 15, a blow that was parried for six before England’s new No 3 took six-four-four over long-off and with two sweeps in Shoaib’s next over to count 20 off four balls. But he got under another sweep to become Afridi’s third victim via a straightforward catch at long leg.
Sam Billings was extremely well held at long-on by Umar Akmal, who had to catch the ball and throw it back in to collect his own parry and avoid stepping on the rope.
Buttler threatened to up the ante until his attempted ramp shot backfired with a tame edge behind off Tanvir, and England’s effort petered out until Woakes hit 13 of 14 runs off Wahab Riaz’s final over.
After England bowled moderately with the new ball, and Pakistan openers Rafatullah Mohmand and Ahmed Shehzad took advantage in a 51-run stand, the spinners had their say.
Stephen Parry turned one sharply to beat Shahzad, up the wicket, and then Rafatullah missed a drive at a leg break from Yorkshire’s Adil Rashid as Buttler completed a second stumping.
Plunkett returned, having conceded 15 in his first over, to have Mohammad Hafeez poking a leading edge to mid-off and Rashid yorked Sohaib Maqsood with a googly which turned back to hit the off-stump.
Buttler pulled off a brilliant catch, diving one-handed down the leg-side, as Plunkett got Umar Akmal.
Afridi revived Pakistan hopes with three sixes and a four off eight balls, but Woakes had him well-caught at short third-man by Plunkett from the last ball of the 18th over.
Even after the home bonus of four overthrows, a Billings ricochet from the deep off Sarfraz as he dived for his ground to make a two, Pakistan needed 11 from the last over.
Woakes had finished well with the bat, and did likewise with the ball. He bowled Sarfraz to put himself on a hat-trick and the hosts just ran out of time in a match which nonetheless went down to the last ball, Anwar Ali unable to hit it for the four required off Woakes.
Buttler was stressed but happy after a win on his first outing as England captain.
“It’s a bit more stressful being captain, but it was a performance full of character from us,” he said.
James Vince’s 38 and Buttler’s 33 were the top scores as a sometimes stuttering England innings reached a par total.
He continued: “We didn’t play our best, we certainly weren’t as fluent as we would like, but we got up to a good score. Then we thought we’d done the work with the ball, but Afridi came in and played as he can – but we got over the line.
“For Woakes to come back, having bowled that over at Afridi, to get it right shows a lot about him. It’s encouraging as a side to win when we didn’t feel we played our best.”
Afridi said: “I want to congratulate the England team, they really played well. It was a good game of cricket, there are some areas we already discussed with the coaches that we should improve as quickly as possible.
“(Twenty20) is very fast cricket so we should raise our standard of fielding and our quickness level, that is the demand of this cricket.”