Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo
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Spectacular scoring feats aren't exactly a novelty in Twenty20 cricket, but both England's captain, Paul Collingwood, and his opposite number, Shoaib Malik, had to concede that Abdul Razzaq's ferocious late onslaught in the second Twenty20 in Dubai had taken the breath away. From an uncompromising position of 78 for 5 after 13 overs, Razzaq turned the contest on its head with a brilliant unbeaten 46 from 18 balls, including five sweetly struck sixes that left no room for equivocation.
"There's no shame in losing like that," said Collingwood. "We're disappointed because we've lost, but sometimes players play innings that deserve to win the game for their country. [Razzaq] put his heart into the innings and struck the ball cleanly from ball one, and sometimes there's not a lot you can do as a fielding unit to stop a guy like that."
Malik, for his part, used the word "awesome" on at least six separate occasions to sum up an innings that ended Pakistan's ignominious run of 10 defeats in a row, in all formats, that stretches back to their tour of New Zealand before Christmas. "We needed this performance before the T20 World Cup, because we were struggling before these two matches," he said. "The way our boys played was awesome to see, and his hitting was absolutely clean and marvellous. He's one of the best players in our team."
"When I went to the crease I was very confident," said Razzaq, who shared in a match-turning stand of 48 in four overs with Fawad Alam. "I was telling Fawad we should win this one. I was saying 'you can, you will' and we did. The team needed that, to hit the ball hard. Thankfully I hit, I think, five sixes because the team needed that to get victory."
England now head off to Bangladesh for three ODIs and two Tests, meaning that the Twenty20 format will be put on the back-burner until the squad reconvenes in the Caribbean for the World Twenty20. With consecutive shared series against South Africa in November and now Pakistan in February, Collingwood is confident that they are ready to put on a decent performance in April and May, starting with a tricky group that includes Ireland and West Indies.
"We've done some great stuff, and there's a lot of positives to take out of the game," he said. "Kevin Pietersen looked at his best again, which is crucial for England, and we've done some fantastic stuff in the last few games so the boys should be very proud. They've been working on their skills and we feel we are moving forward in this format of the game, but it just took that last five or six overs for one batsman to turn it around, and you take your hat off to him. It was pure hitting and it was very hard to bowl at him."
One man who bore the brunt of Razzaq's onslaught was England's debutant, Ajmal Shahzad, who had a night to remember, for all manner of reasons. His first over was the stuff of schoolboy dreams, as he rebounded from a first-ball boundary to scalp both of Pakistan's openers in the space of three balls, but the denouement was disappointing, as Razzaq smoked him into the stands for two match-sealing sixes.
"He's come in against the world's best Twenty side, and it's not easy when you're bowling against guys like that," said Collingwood. "But he's got the talent, he's certainly got the pace, and also the aggression to go with it. When you've got a combination like that you learn all the time, and he'll learn a hell of a lot from this experience tonight. I know he enjoyed it, which is a good thing. He certainly didn't shy away from it, and he's got all the attributes."
Joe Denly, on the other hand, is looking like a man in need of a break from the front line, after adding a torturous 5 from 10 balls to a Twenty20 tally that now reads 20 runs in five innings. With Somerset's hard-hitting Craig Kieswetter now competing for a place in the ODIs in Bangladesh, it's highly possible that England will have themselves another new opening combination in place by the time the World Twenty20 gets underway.
"I'm sure he's disappointed with his form," said Collingwood, when asked about Denly. "We've seen what he can do in county cricket, and his domestic record is very good. Batting at the top of the order is a confidence thing, and [he needs] one innings when he gets it away, to get the ball rolling. But Joe is a three-dimensional cricketer. He bowls useful legspin, and he's a great lad to have in the dressing room. Let's hope his form turns around."