England were on top of their game and widely reckoned as tournament favourites for this edition of the ICC Champions Trophy. They were the only team to have beaten all the three teams in group stages and smoothly made it to the semifinal riding on some incredible performances. Since the 2015 World Cup, they have evolved into a force to reckon with, they have found the right combination and players have gelled extremely well. But on this occasion, they were rattled by Pakistani seamers in a knock-out game and the side which was oozing with confidence looked bereft of oomph against the inconsistent and unpredictable Pakistani side in the first semi-final.
England were comprehensively beaten by Pakistan and the latter made way into the final of the coveted tournament. Pakistan dominated this game and didn’t let England bounce back; they won the contest by eight wickets and with 77 deliveries to spare, which speaks about the domination they had in this game. The occasion was reminiscent to that of 1992 World Cup final. Back then also, England were unstoppable but lost the battle to Pakistan when it mattered the most. Then what got the better of England? Was Pakistan just outstanding on this day? Was the pressure of a semi-final got the better of England? Or, English batsmen couldn’t counter-attack the pumped Pakistani seamers?
Throughout the group stages, England’s only matter of concern was Jason Roy’s form. Eventually, he lost his place to Jonny Bairstow, who almost made a huge impact in the high-voltage semi-final. Let’s introspect where England lost the plot? England were put in to bat first. Pakistan suffered a huge blow with the absence of Mohammad Amir, who had a magnificent game against Sri Lanka. Alex Hales had a new opening partner in the form of Bairstow. The duo started off well and a total of 300 looked on the cards with the kind of start England got in first five overs. England were lucky to have a couple of leg-before’s going their way. But, soon when things were looking threatening for Pakistan, Alex Hales gifted his wicket away in an attempt to clear the infield.
Joe Root walked in and did what he is known for – steadying the ship. Once again, when England were in good position when Bairstow played a loose stroke and threw his wicket away for 43. England needed to build a solid platform for their explosive middle-order to capitalise, but it wasn’t to be. Their lower-order were yet to be tested and semi-final was not the ideal stage to do so. Root and Eoin Morgan brought their experience into play and weathered the storm with utmost care. But Root was undone by Shadab Khan on 46. Still, there wasn’t any need to panic for England as they had enough batting to come.
Eoin Morgan and Ben Stokes rescued the English ship from a precarious situation in the game against Australia, and this time they were in a much better situation too. But soon things went from bad to worse. England’s run-rate took a beating and Pakistani bowlers were tightening the noose around England. They needed to break the shackles and Eoin Morgan took charge for it. It seemed like England still had a total of 300 on their mind when Morgan attempted to go down the ground but only managed a thin edge. It was a beautiful delivery from Hasan Ali, which moved a bit away from Morgan and ended his run on 33. After Morgan’s dismissal, England had to reassess their strategy as 300 looked out of their grasp.
England still had Jos Buttler and Stokes at the crease and needed a quite 30 or 40 runs partnership, but Pakistani bowlers were not showing any mercy whatsoever. Junaid Khan got rid of Buttler and England’s hope of reaching anywhere close to 270 ended. Their primary target now was to play out the 50 overs and get close to 250. Moeen Ali showed positive signs and attacked but Junaid Khan once again scalped a wicket just when things were starting to stabilise for England.
From 128 for 2, England were reduced to 162 for 6 inside 39 overs. More importantly, they lost four impactful batsmen, which was also the turning point of the match. A team just can’t afford to lose four established batsmen in such a small span especially in a big as big as the semifinal. The wickets of Morgan and Buttler were huge for the opposition as the duo has a knack of playing big innings and could accelerate at any given stage. Their quick fall broke the spine of English batting and they now had a mountain to climb.
Stokes was still alive at the crease as wickets kept tumbling at the other end. He wanted to be there until the end and didn’t offer any strokes to deliveries, which he would have hammered for a six on any other day. He curbed his natural instincts but failed to deliver when it was the right time. In the death overs, England wanted to accelerate but Stokes was struggling with his timing and was not able to clear the boundary. England somehow had 212 runs on the board, which could have been a challenge had their bowlers picked early wickets as Pakistan are not good chasers of the game.
Pakistan came out all guns blazing with Fakhar Zaman and Azhar Ali taking on the English bowlers. They didn’t provide any room for error and stitched a match-winning partnership of 118 runs at the top. English bowlers failed to make any impact with the ball as it turned out to be a one-sided game in the end. This loss will hurt them for a while now but they could have certainly done better. They had the team, they were doing well but a stumble at a crucial stage cost them massively. But hopes are still alive, this English side have a long way to go and with 2019 World Cup approaching, England can rectify their errors from this tournament and make amends for the big league.