England snatched victory from the jaws of defeat to take a 1-0 lead in the three-match one-day international series over Pakistan under floodlights at the National Stadium here on Tuesday.
England looked dead and buried when they were reduced to 13 for two after Pakistan had posted a seemingly match-winning score of 304 for nine in 50 overs. But two century partnerships steered England to a five-wicket victory with 17 balls still to spare.
It was the third time Pakistan had failed to defend a score of over 300. Australia overhauled Pakistan twice while India did it once in Dhaka.
Ironically, it was also Pakistan's fifth straight defeat here with their last victory being way back in 1996 also against England in the 1996 World Cup match.
The man who stood between Pakistan and victory was 22-year-old Lancashire allrounder Andrew Flintoff who hit a hurricane 60-ball 84 for which he was rightly adjudged Man-of-the-Match. Flintoff blasted six boundaries and three sixes to virtually toy with a star-studded Pakistan bowling attack.
Flintoff's innings may look electrifying but it was a knock which would make the greatest of batsmen proud of. He kept his cool and took controlled risk by hitting the ball inside gaps. Probably Pakistan would have felt 20 fields short the way Flintoff built his innings and took England to one of the most memorable victories.
Pakistan captain Moin Khan needed an acrobatic catch to dismiss Flintoff. But by then, the big-hitter had done his job as only two runs for victory were left.
Flintoff featured in a 138-run fifth wicket stand with Graham Thorpe who nudged and pushed the ball around with occasional aggressive drive to remained unbeaten on less than a run-a-ball 64. His innings comprised four elegant boundaries.
But it was England skipper Nasser Hussain and Worcestershire's graceful Graeme Hick who repaired the damage after Alec Stewart was wrongly given caught behind by Riazuddin and Marcus Trescothick had mistimed a pull to be comfortably caught by Mushtaq Ahmad off Waqar Younis.
Hussain and Hick revived hopes of victory by putting on 114 runs for the third wicket off just 104 balls. Hussain, who started aggressively by hitting Abdur Razzaq for three boundaries in his opening over, continued to play a captain's innings until he was smartly stumped by Moin Khan. He scored 73 off 99 balls with eight sweetly timed boundaries.
Hick was as fluent and delight to watch as always while scoring 56. His wood produced three boundaries and a straight six. He faced 52 balls.
It was such a disappointment to see one of the most formidable bowling attacks to play in the hands of the Englishmen. They were erratic, wayward and short of length to give the tourists enough time to place their strokes.
Many would feel that Moin Khan made the wrong decision of batting first. But fact of the matter is his decision was justified when the home team collected 304 from 50 overs. The simple fact is that the bowlers didn't bowl well and the Englishmen played out of their skins.
The element of dew was also a disadvantage to the Pakistanis as their bowlers failed to control the white ball. After almost every ball, towel was being applied to keep it dry. But the home team management cannot escape from criticism because had they come to see that two warm-up games England played, they would have realized how difficult it is to bowl second.
Earlier, Pakistan cut the England bowling down to size by scoring 106 runs off the final 10 overs to reach 304 for nine. Abdur Razzaq played an innings of his life to thoroughly entertain a sell-out crowd by whacking a career-best unconquered 75 off a mere 40 balls. His innings was punctuated with five boundaries and three sixes.
Razzaq's half century came off 29 balls.
It was an excellent finish to the Pakistan innings after the top three batsmen had provided the home team a flying start. Saeed Anwar struck four boundaries off his first 12 balls before departing at the score of 39. But Imran Nazir (31) and Salim Elahi (28) applied the pressure as Pakistan reached 87 in 13 overs.
But the Englishmen tightened the screws of the Pakistan by picking up the wickets of the two batsmen in a space of 10 runs. Inzamam-ul-Haq and Yousuf Youhana held the innings together by adding 100 runs for the fourth wicket from 130 balls.
The partnership ended when Youhana departed at 35. But Inzamam continued to maul the tourists with a variety of powerful strokes. He was finally deceived by a low full toss by Mark Ealham but not before he had scored 71 - his 55th career half century in 232 matches. Inzamam hit six boundaries.
While the England fielders remained sharp in the fielding, their bowlers suffered as the wicket was firm enough to serve as a helipad while the wicket was lightening fast.
England's brilliant victory has made one thing clear - they will be a tough opposition to beat in the next two one-day internationals that will follow the three Tests. Besides, their victory gives spice to the first series in 13 years which should attract the public more than ever.