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Match Analysis

Like a moth to the flame, Mohammad Rizwan shows the light to Pakistan

Unrelenting and immoveable, Pakistan's anchorman gives his team just enough to win

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
Mohammad Rizwan made his fourth half-century of the series  •  AFP/Getty Images

Mohammad Rizwan made his fourth half-century of the series  •  AFP/Getty Images

The moths are the first thing you notice when night falls at Lahore's Gaddafi Stadium.
They stick to every surface, refusing to budge no matter how hard you try. Fast, sudden movements can throw them off briefly but they are soon back as they once were: stubborn, persistent, unyielding. And the evening sky turned to dusk and the moths grew in number, Mohammad Rizwan walked out to bat.
Since he shuffled up the order to open the batting in T20 internationals, nearly two years ago, Rizwan has become the antidote to the long-held reputation of Pakistan sides. They are mercurial. They are unpredictable. You never know which Pakistan will turn up on the night.
Well, you always know which Mohammad Rizwan will turn up on the night. Nobody can match his average in this format of the game, which stands at 53.76, and in the last month he has taken his relentless consistency to new heights. Since the start of the Asia Cup, he has batted 11 times, scored seven half-centuries and averaged 56.22.
On Wednesday night in Lahore, he batted for exactly 100 minutes, swatting the moths away while driving Pakistan to a total they could - and did - defend. He batted through to the 18th over, grinding out 63 off 46 on a slow pitch with variable bounce; none of his team-mates managed more than 15.
Rizwan had just faced his eighth ball when he scampered through towards the bowler's end for a single. Dawid Malan scampered in from backward point and hurled the ball towards the stumps, but as Rizwan dipped his head for the finish line, Malan's throw struck him clean in the back. He shrugged it off, but it was serious enough to keep him off the field throughout England's chase.
He offered a chance off his 12th ball, put down by Alex Hales at mid-on, and immediately made it clear that he had no intentions of letting England off the hook, swinging his next ball away for the game's first six over square leg. After 10 overs, he had only faced 23 balls as his partners got in and got out; Pakistan were 66 for 3 and going nowhere.
Wickets continued to fall. Immediately after the drinks break, he skipped down the pitch to loft Adil Rashid straight back over his head for six but Malan held onto a sharp chance to dismiss Iftikhar Ahmed. Mark Wood then rearranged Asif Ali's stumps with a searing yorker, and Mohammad Nawaz ran himself out spectacularly.
Rizwan was undeterred, running England ragged. He faced only eight dots across his innings, working the gaps and ensuring Pakistan reached something approaching a par score. It was a mark of his quality that he was the only player to cope with Wood's raw pace, scoring 14 of the 20 runs that Wood conceded including a vicious swivel-pull for six.
There is a sense with Rizwan that whatever he does will never be enough and clearly, there have been occasions when he has chewed up balls without kicking on. Perhaps he could go harder against legspin; perhaps he could kick on sooner when the field spreads after the powerplay.
But he does not play as he does, taking the innings deep and churning out runs game after game just for the sake of it. At full strength, Pakistan have one of the world's best bowling attacks, which means that with the bat, reaching par is often enough. It is a tried and tested method which has won them many more games than it has lost.
Rizwan's slow-burning consistency can lower Pakistan's ceiling, but it invariably raises the floor: consecutive innings of 88 off 67 and 63 off 46 have helped them scrape together enough runs to seal three and six-run victories. In a series where England's own top order have struggled for runs - with Alex Hales' matchwinning 53 in the first game being their only half-century in 10 attempts - he has been unabating.
England's batting approach - a deep line-up, which allows ultra-aggression throughout - is often held up as the gold standard, a futuristic style which will become the norm as T20 cricket evolves. So it was telling that their captain, Moeen Ali, suggested his side could learn plenty from Rizwan's innings.
"He's a brilliant player and he's hard to stop," Moeen said. "He's busy and he hits boundaries in awkward positions. He saw the situation and adapted to the wicket today. He's been free-flowing a lot of the time and today it still felt like he was doing the same. He took risks when he needed to but played properly when he needed to as well."
Rizwan's tally of 315 runs in five innings is the highest-ever in a bilateral T20I series. "I think we can learn a lot from the way he played today," Moeen added. "He's a fantastic player. We've obviously found him quite difficult to bowl to in this series so far."
The T20 World Cup is edging ever closer and conditions in Lahore were miles away from those Pakistan will encounter in Australia, a country where Rizwan has made only 45 runs in three T20I innings. It will be a big test for him to adjust to the extra pace and bounce that is associated with Australian pitches.
But whether he wins them a trophy or not, it feels inevitable that Rizwan, Pakistan's own moth, will continue to churn out half-centuries like his life depends on it. In a format that is meant to be fickle, volatile and fleeting, Rizwan's runs have become reassuringly predictable.

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98