CHRIS WOAKES produced a devastating opening spell and ended with five wickets as England continued their unstoppable start to the summer.
While the likes of David Willey and Tom Curran scrapped for positions in England’s World Cup squad, Woakes re-established his status as leader of the white ball attack after recent concerns about his chronic knee problem.
The Warwickshire all-rounder had a scarcely-believable 3-0 – yes, three wickets for no runs – in his first two overs and finished with 5-54 as England triumphed by 54 runs at Headingley.
That gave them a 4-0 series success over Pakistan and means Eoin Morgan’s men have won all six of their completed matches so far this summer and enter the tournament with soaring self-belief.
They have two official warm-up matches – against Australia and Afghanistan – before the big curtain-raiser against South Africa on May 30.
This was the final audition for players trying to nail down their place in the final 15-man party, which is announced tomorrow.
Willey took one wicket but failed to advance his cause above that of Curran while Joe Denly did not even play.
Willey ended the game close to bursting point and Pakistan’s Nos.10 and 11 cut and carved his bowling during a last-wicket stand of 47.
The selectors meet today and the most likely outcome is that, from the provisional party unveiled last month, Willey is discarded to make way for Jofra Archer and Hampshire all-rounder Liam Dawson replaces Denly.
Liam Plunkett, although short of pace and form in recent months, and Mark Wood, who has played just one match this season, look to be safe. Whoever is omitted will feel hard done by.
England’s World Cup kit will also be unveiled tomorrow and, word is, it has a retro look with a nod to the 1992 team that reached the final.
And some England players were yesterday copying Ian Botham’s index-fingers-pointing-upwards, dancing celebration that he used in that tournament 27 years ago.
‘QUALITY NOT COMPROMISED’
Captain Morgan said: “This series has been as good as we could have hoped for. Pakistan are a strong side. We’ve chopped and changed a lot but the quality of our cricket has not been compromised
“I don’t know our 15. Every player should be very proud of what they have achieved so far and the selection meeting will be very difficult. I think as many as 17 players might be involved because of injury and illness.”
Man of the match Woakes added: “To win 4-0 is great for us going into the World Cup. Confidence is high across the squad. Competition for places is there which keeps everyone on their toes and pushing each other. We never settle for what we have, we always want to get better.”
England made their normal electrifying start and struck 17 fours in the opening ten-over power play.
With Joe Root and Morgan making half-centuries and looking in prime form, England appeared on course for 400 but a clatter of wickets – they slumped from 257-3 to 295-7 – removed 50 runs from that ambition.
The best shot of all was Curran’s flick over his head for four. Less a ramp, more as though he was flipping a pancake in a frying pan.
England’s total of 351-9 looked huge when Woakes had the dangerous Fakhar Zaman caught by Root at second slip and nailed both Abid Ali and Mohammad Hafeez lbw.
But the classy Babar Azam and captain Sarfaraz Ahmed put on 146 for the fourth wicket in good time. Pakistan were clambering back into the match.
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Adil Rashid then executed a sleight of hand, back-flick run out to remove Babar and then clung onto a brilliant diving catch offered by Shoaib Malik.
Not bad for a man who is normally considered one of England’s less athletic and reliable fielders.
Jos Buttler ran out Sarfaraz for 97 after the wicketkeeper stopped a late cut with his leg, picked up the ball and removed the bails. That put the outcome beyond all doubt.