Cardiff: Less than 24 hours after training together for the first time, an emergency England side made light of chaotic circumstances to thrash Pakistan in the first one-day international by nine wickets on Thursday.
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 three-match series and responded with a magnificent effort.
Seamer Saqib Mahmood seized the unexpected opportunity 10 months since his last international appearance, taking two wickets in the first over of the day and finishing with career-best figures of 4-42 as Pakistan crumbled to 141 all out in 36 overs.
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 inducted, as England fielded a side boasting just 128 ODI caps. Of those, 98 belonged to stand-in captain Ben Stokes, rushing his recovery from an injured finger to fill the leadership void.
Another six caps 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 No. 1 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 0-2, 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 Simpson.