England 210 for 4 (Taylor 67*, Buttler 49*) beat Pakistan 208 (Hafeez 45, Woakes 4-40) by six wickets
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
James Taylor produced an innings of class and style to help England to victory in a low-scoring ODI in Sharjah. Taylor, with an unbeaten 67, added 117 for the fifth-wicket with Jos Buttler to see their side to victory with nine overs and six wickets in hand, giving England a 2-1 lead in the series with only one match - in Dubai on Friday - left to play.
The apparent comfort of that margin is somewhat deceptive, though. Not long after Taylor came to the middle, England were struggling on 93 for 4 and seemingly facing an uphill battle against spin bowling on a pitch that was beginning to turn sharply. Had Pakistan taken their chances, the result could well have been different.
One of those chances was presented by Buttler. Moments after joining Taylor, he skipped down the pitch against the bowling of Shoaib Malik, yorked himself and should have been stumped by a distance.
It was a moment that summed up a shoddy evening's work from Pakistan. The excellence of their bowlers was undermined as chance after chance went down and the ground fielding sunk to a level some way below that required in modern international cricket. They also lost three batsmen to unusually dozy run outs.
All England's four highest scorers benefited from chances: Alex Hales was dropped on 7, a caught and bowled chance to the left hand of the impressive Mohammad Irfan; Eoin Morgan was dropped on 2, a much tougher caught and bowled chance back to debutant Zafar Gohar, playing in place of the injured Yasir Shah, and Taylor was missed, on 54, when Gohar appeared to lose the ball under lights and failed to lay a hand on the chance. While the chance given by Taylor probably came too late to change the result, any of the other three might have done.
But this was still a fine performance by England. To win in these conditions - their nightmare conditions, really - to win despite losing a toss that should have proved disproportionately important and to win with young players providing the key contributions, was another step forward for a side that have progressed pleasingly since the debacle of the World Cup at the start of the year.
Especially impressive was the contribution of Taylor. With a calm head, quick feet and an ability to scamper, manoeuvre and punish, he refused to allow the bowlers to settle and provided exactly the sort of dynamic, positive performance that England have been crying out for against spin bowling for many years.
But England may be equally delighted with Buttler's performance. It is no secret that he has lost form and confidence in recent times, so to register his highest international score in 21 innings (across all three formats) in such testing circumstances bodes well. If it proves to be the game that revived his confidence, it may prove highly significant.
In truth, though, this was probably a game that Pakistan lost more than England won. In conditions that, for the first 50 overs of the match, offered no swing, no seam and precious little spin, Pakistan lost six for 29 in 12 overs and were only helped to a total above 200 by some uncomplicated thrashing by Wahab Riaz down the order.
That is not to say that England did not bowl well. Chris Woakes, with a sharp short ball and decent yorker, claimed four wickets (three of them with that short ball), while Moeen Ali conceded just 30 from 10 overs of clever, well-controlled spin. But once Moeen and Adil Rashid, who came back from two early sixes courtesy of Mohammad Hafeez to concede just 20 from his final six overs, applied some pressure, Pakistan - clearly missing Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan - buckled surprisingly quickly.
There was a moment, when Pakistan were 132 for 2 with more than 20 overs of their innings remaining, when it appeared a total approaching 270 was achievable. Yes, the pitch - used for the Test between these countries barely two weeks ago - was slow and the outfield slower, but there was, at that stage, no menace in it and England, without their key allrounder, had little in reserve should one of their bowlers experience a bad day.
But Mohammad Hafzeez, attempting to turn an off cutter from David Willey around the corner, top-edged the ball to deep square leg and Sarfraz Ahmed skipped down the pitch in the next over and lofted a catch to deep mid-wicket. Iftikhar Ahmed pulled to deep square leg and Anwar Ali skied to mid on as he tried to thrash his way out of trouble.
There was little rotation, little calm and little progress. For 11 overs in mid-innings - from the 26th to the 37th over - Pakistan's most productive scoring shot was a single and, though there was a flurry of sixes in the final few overs, there were no fours after the 26th over and only three after the 16th.
But it was the run outs that were particularly galling. Azhar Ali was dismissed when Hafeez, incorrectly presuming his chop into the off side would beat Taylor at point, called him for an unlikely single, before Mohammad Rizwan was turned back after setting off for another optimistic run. Then Malik, over committing while backing up, was beaten when attempting an impossible chance to Chris Jordan, the substitute fielder. They were basic, sloppy errors.
But that should not obscure from the performance of Taylor. He has fought long and hard to win a recall to this England side but now, just a few weeks on, it is hard to see how he can be left out in any format.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo