A big Festival crowd were treated to two centuries and a dominant display by the England Lions batsmen as they defeated Pakistan A in the second match of the tri-series at the Brewin Dolphin Cheltenham Festival.
Set 245 to win after left hander Sharjeel Khan made 125 out of Pakistan A’s total of 244 all out, Northamptonshire left hander Ben Duckett cracked 163 not out and with support from Worcestershire’s Joe Clarke, the pair took the game out of the reach of Pakistan A with a 3rd wicket stand of 117.
Duckett, batting at number three, finished the match in the grand manner by hitting Baber Azam into the Thirlestaine Road stand for six as the England Lions won by seven wickets with more than 13 overs in hand.
In sweltering conditions, Lions captain Dawid Malan won the toss and decided to bowl first, a decision that looked a good one after the initial powerplay despite the excellent College Ground pitch.
Tom Curran, bowling on the ground where his father Kevin represented Gloucestershire in the 1980’s, took two wickets in his fourth over, Fakhar Raman steering Curran to Joe Clarke at point, and then Abdul Rehman Muzammil was lbw without scoring.
When Mark Wood clipped the top of Pakistan A skipper Baber Azam’s off stump in the next over, a lot hinged on left hander Sharjeel Khan, who had made 90 on Monday against Sri Lanka A. The most experienced player in the team didn’t disappoint once he’d been involved in a dreadful run out, Saud Shakeel being left stranded going for a third run which never interested his batting partner.
The imputus for the Pakistan A innings came in an eight over spell where Sussex teenager George Garton and Hampshire spinner Liam Dawson conceded 62 runs, Sharjeel Khan hitting Dawson for three sixes.
Playing extensively off the back foot, he was severe on anything short, given the true bounce which the batsmen were quickly able to trust, and his century stand with Mohammad Nawaz was a blend of big hits and sensible rotation of the strike before Nawaz (35) gave Curran his third wicket with a faint edge to ‘keeper Billings.
By this stage Sharjeel Khan had completed an 88 ball century with 11 fours and five sixes, so given his beligerence his dismissal when it came was a soft one, steering Dawson to Mark Wood in the gully for 125. It signalled a crumbling of the Pakistan A innings, as the last five wickets added only 32 runs, the impressive Wood and Curran sharing seven wickets with Wood bowling at a sharp pace.
Needing to score at five an over, the England Lions had an early setback when skipper Dawid Malan was lbw to Hasan Ali in the third over, but the remainder of the afternoon belonged to Northamptonshire’s Ben Duckett.
The chunky left hander was making his England Lions debut, and he soon showed his intent to put bat to ball with four boundaries in one over from Mohammad Abbas.
He did miscue Bilawal Bhatti towards mid off when he’s made 24, but otherwise it was a chanceless innings , with the areas square of the wicket being particularly profitable from square cuts or fierce sweeps.
His initial partner was Daniel Bell-Drummond, the Kent opener playing in orthodox fashion until he was caught behind off Bilawal Bhatti. 68 runs had come from only nine overs – Bell-Drummond’s share was 22 – and there was no let up in the scoring rate as Joe Clarke, in a low key role, again showed why he’s so highly regarded at Worcestershire.
His only disappointment, having made 35, was that he didn’t finish the match alongside Duckett, but a gentle cut to Hasan Ali in the gully off left arm spinner Mohammad Nawaz saw to that.
Kent’s Sam Billings enjoyed a brief cameo as the England Lions coasted to victory but this was Duckett’s day, completing his half century from only 29 deliveries and his century in 65 balls with 17 fours and a solitary six from a reverse sweep.
It was a shot he was to repeat several times more as the 21 year old went from 100-150 in only 33 balls. 120 runs in the 21 year old’s unbeaten 163 came in boundaries as he struck 23 fours and three sixes.
For Pakistan A, it was a defeat as convincing as their win over Sri Lanka A 24 hours earlier. In that game, they had looked the better organised side in all areas but here their bowlers all suffered as Ben Duckett enjoyed an England Lions debut he’ll remember for a very long time.