Weather in England played spoilsport, yet again, as the first T20I between the hosts and Pakistan – also the first T20I in nearly half-a-dozen months – was interrupted by heavy rains and had to be abandoned. After severely impacting the Test series, the torrential showers have clawed their way into the T20I series, too. With the series effectively reduced to a two-match affair, the importance of the 2nd T20I on Sunday has magnified. 

Before the rain intervention, the match was poised sublimely. Tom Banton had rubbed a lot of salt in Pakistani wounds as he made the most of the reprieve gifted to him early in the piece. He walloped along to a whirlwind fifty – pounding the Pakistan bowling attack to all parts of the Old Trafford. It was when his 42-ball 71 came to a close that the visitors resurged and made a resounding comeback courtesy a flurry of wickets. England were 131/6 at 16.1 when the rain became too heavy and the players had to trudge off, not to return again onto the pitch that night.

The Babar Azam-led Pakistan decided to go in with a veteran outlook as they fielded both Mohammad Hafeez and Shoaib Malik at the expense of benching the prodigious, young batting talent, Haider Ali. Fakhar Zaman retained his opening slot despite an extremely hushed run of form in the last several T20Is. 

As for the bowling, Mohammad Amir and Shaheen Afridi were extremely skillful and economical up-front. The highly-rated Haris Rauf, however, didn’t have a particularly good night with the ball as he went the journey in his three-over spell – bleeding 32 runs for no scalps. The team management might decide to replace him with Mohammad Hasnain – the young pacer who was the leading wicket-taker in this year’s PSL. Pakistan didn’t get a chance to bat which suggests that they will retain the same batting line-up for the 2nd T20I.

Pakistan’s Probable XI: Babar Azam (c), Fakhar Zaman, Mohammad Hafeez, Shoaib Malik, Iftikhar Ahmed, Imad Wasim, Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Shadab Khan, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Mohammad Hasnain/Haris Rauf, Mohammad Amir.

England, on the other hand, would have been, somewhat, disgruntled by the middle order’s performance in the first outing on Friday. Banton provided an excellent impetus for the likes of Eoin Morgan, Moeen Ali, and Sam Billings to cash in on it but they failed to do so and handed Pakistan an advantage in the latter half of the innings. Dawid Malan, who has double digit scores across all the T20Is that he played (11) will need to up his scoring rate for this game. 

The Three Lions were especially troubled by the spin-twins of Pakistan. This could pave way for David Willey’s admittance into the playing XI. The southpaw is a T20 specialist with the ball and can also chip in with handy contributions. He is a dangerous willow-wielder who can wreak havoc on his day. It will be interesting to see who Willey replaces, though, as England didn’t get the chance to bowl at Pakistan in the first T20I.

England’s Probable XI: Tom Banton, Jonny Bairstow, Dawid Malan, Eoin Morgan ©, Moeen Ali, Sam Billings (wk), Lewis Gregory, Tom Curran, Chris Jordan, Adil Rashid, Saqib Mahmood.

It may come as a surprise but there is no chance for rain on Sunday afternoon at the Emirates Old Trafford. We should get a proper, 40-over contest, with the winner taking an unassailable lead in the series. Friday’s deck suggested that the pitch does get tricky for the new batsmen walking in to bat since there was some definite grip and skid for the slower bowlers. It promises to be a staggering contest between two evenly-matched T20 outfits.