Bristol: Jonny Bairstow’s commanding hundred was the centrepiece of England’s dominant six-wicket win over Pakistan in the third one-day international at Bristol on Tuesday as the World Cup hosts showed they could chase, as well as set, a target.
England generally prefer batting first but captain Eoin Morgan decided to give them experience of chasing just weeks away from the World Cup by opting to field first after winning the toss.
Bairstow’s 128 in a score of 359 for four — England’s second highest winning total batting second in an ODI — vindicated Morgan’s decision and left his side 2-0 up with two to play in a five-match series.
Test captain Joe Root made 43 as Pakistan became increasingly ragged in the field, England winning with 31 balls — or more than five overs — to spare.
Earlier, Imam-ul-Haq’s excellent career-best 151 saw Pakistan to 358 for nine.
That left England with a seemingly challenging target, particularly as they had rested Jos Buttler following his match-winning 110 not out in the second ODI at Southampton on Saturday.
Openers run riot
But Bairstow and opening partner Jason Roy, who made 76 after Shaheen Shah Afridi dropped an easy chance to catch him at mid-off on 21, shared a blistering stand of 159 inside 18 overs.
The pair took advantage of a good pitch, short boundaries, fast outfield and an inexperienced Pakistan attack — Mohammad Amir was again ruled out with chicken pox — to repeatedly send the ball soaring over the ropes.
Roy set the tone with a huge straight six off Afridi and flat-batted medium-pacer Faheem Ashraf’s first ball straight back over the bowler’s head for another.
Roy eventually sliced Faheem to Asif Ali at cover-point, having hit eight fours and four sixes.
Faheem almost had a second wicket when he was unable to cling on to a tough caught and bowled chance off a hard-hit Bairstow drive when the batsman was on 86.
Bairstow, severe on anything short, went to his seventh ODI hundred, and first against Pakistan, off 74 balls including 12 fours and three sixes.
He eventually fell when he bottom-edged a pull off Junaid Khan into his stumps, with England on their way to victory at 234 for two in the 29th over.
Earlier, Chris Woakes bolstered his chances of being included in England’s final 15-man World Cup squad with four wickets for 67 runs in a maximum 10 overs.
But Joe Denly’s prospects suffered a setback, with the leg-spinner — playing in place of the rested Adil Rashid — bowling a couple of full tosses in a solitary over costing nine runs before he was removed from the attack.
Woakes reduced Pakistan to 27 for two, a full-length ball having Fakhar Zaman — fresh from a hundred at Southampton — edging to Root at second slip before a sharp off-cutter bowled Babar Azam.
But Haris Sohail made a run-a-ball 41 before he was run out going for a sharp single by bowler Tom Curran kicking the ball onto the striker’s-end stumps.
But left-handed opener Imam went to his sixth hundred in 27 ODIs — and first against England — off 97 balls.
The nephew of Pakistan great and selection chief Inzamam-ul-Haq, upped his tempo by driving left-arm quick David Willey for six.
Imam surpassed his previous ODI best of 128 against Zimbabwe at Bulawayo last year before he was bowled, giving himself room, by Curran.
The 23-year-old’s innings was the highest individual score by a Pakistan batsman against England in an ODI, surpassing the 138 made by Fakhar at Southampton.