Curran and Billings take Lions to decider
England Lions 119 for 5 (Billings 61*) beat Pakistan A 116 for 9 (Curran 2-15) by five wickets
Tom Curran starred with the ball on his England representative debut, while Sam Billings advanced his burgeoning reputation with a superbly paced half-century from the depths of a top-order collapse, as England Lions squared their five-match T20 series with Pakistan A at 2-2 with an impressive five-wicket victory at Dubai.
Curran, the Zimbabwe-born Surrey seamer who qualified for England during the summer, confirmed his class after a breakthrough season in county cricket, claiming 2 for 15 in four high-quality overs to head limit Pakistan A to 116 for 9 in their 20 overs, a total that England overhauled with five wickets and 11 balls to spare.
However, England were indebted to Billings for a cool-headed performance in adversity. His unbeaten 61 from 48 balls, with four fours and two sixes, formed the backbone of a run-chase that, at 9 for 3 in the fourth over, had threatened to be very dicey indeed.
Instead, Billings found an obdurate ally in Liam Dawson, who made 37 from 35 balls in a fourth-wicket stand of 94, and though Pakistan struck back with two late wickets, including a third for Junaid Khan, who completed the superb figures of 3 for 9 in four overs, Billings slapped the winning boundary back over the head of Zia-ul-Haq to square the rubber and take the series to a decider on Wednesday.
The victory, however, was built on another fine all-round display from England's attack, who had come close to defending a sub-par total in Friday's third match and this time capitalised on captain James Vinces' decision to bowl first.
Steven Finn continued his impressive return from injury, opening his day's work with a maiden before bowling the dangerous Sharjeel Khan, whose 70 from 50 balls had been the difference between the teams in their last outing, off an inside edge in his second over.
Sohaib Maqsood and Iftikhar Ahmed combined in a dangerous second-wicket stand of 61 in 7.1 overs, with Finn's third over going for 17 runs including a sweet pull through midwicket for six by Maqsood.
However, the introduction of the spinners, Liam Dawson and Dawid Malan, slowed their progress, and it was Malan's legbreaks that broke the partnership, as Iftikhar top-edged an attempted slap over the leg-side, and holed out to Jamie Overton at long-on for 26.
One over later, and Curran was in on the act, courtesy of his Surrey team-mate, Ben Foakes, who sprinted in from deep midwicket to cling onto a fine catch off the new batsman, Babar Azam.
Maqsood then followed suit, again impressively snaffled on the leg side as Tom Westley dived to give Malan his second victim, and Pakistan lost their fourth wicket for 12 runs in the space of 20 balls when Saad Nasim mowed across the line at Dawson to be caught by Overton, again at midwicket.
With their frontline batsmen out of the picture, Pakistan's tail had little answer to the death-bowling skills of Curran and Reece Topley, who conceded nine runs between them in the final four overs of the innings. Pakistan's confusion was summed up by their captain, Junaid Khan, who conceded four dots in Curran's final over, then was run out by a Billings direct hit off the fifth.
Junaid swiftly atoned for that indignity, however, bagging Vince for a fourth-ball duck before removing Tom Westley, also without scoring, in his second over. Five balls later Zia had Malan, the pick of England's batsmen to date, caught behind for 6 to leave the chase in disarray. But Billings and Dawson were not to be denied.