An inconsistent and unpredictable Pakistan side punched above their weight and beat England in the first semi-final of the ICC Champions Trophy to sculpt a spot in the final. Pakistan were simply outstanding in all the three departments and outplayed England comprehensively at Cardiff. In a crunch game like the semi-final, Pakistan lifted their game every department in order to emerge victorious. Prior to the start of the tournament, very few would have expected Pakistan to even make it to the semi-final leave alone the final. After a disheartening campaign against India, they have bounced back emphatically and now stand a golden chance of winning the title.
England were the favourites going into the tournament and Pakistan needed to do something special in a do-or-die game for both the teams. Not many thought that they could have made it this far. But Pakistan did and had nothing to lose in the high-voltage semi-final. But they suffered a huge blow just before the game when their strike bowler Mohammad Amir was ruled out due to injury. Their bowling was their primary weapon with Amir being the biggest missile. They were psychologically hurt but were not short of confidence. Rumman Raees made way into the side and Pakistani bowlers had a challenge against the star-studded English batting.
England, without a doubt, has one of the strongest and explosive batting line-ups in the tournament. The likes of Alex Hales, Joe Root, Eoin Morgan, Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler render batting a joy to behold. They can run through the best of the bowling attacks and Morgan and Stokes’ counter-attack against Australia in their previous encounter was just a testament to it. Pakistan were without the service of the frontline bowler but Junaid Khan, Hasan Ali and Rumman Raees did a commendable job in restricting the English side to 211.
Hasan Ali bowled magnificently and got key wickets of Jonny Bairstow, Eoin Morgan and Ben Stokes while Rumman Raees got the first breakthrough in the form of Bairstow. Junaid Khan set the tone with two wickets in the middle of Jos Buttler and Moeen Ali. Shadab Khan also scalped the prized wicket of Joe Root as England were undone for 211 in the final over. England have been a side, which has struck boundaries and sixes prolifically in the tournament so far. But in this contest, England managed to score just 15 boundaries, which is also their lowest since 2015 World Cup. Also, their innings didn’t contain even a single six, which also speaks about the pressure Pakistani bowlers maintained.
Their bowlers were also well supported by the fielders. After a few hiccups at the start, Pakistan fielders did a magnificent job in the field and cupped a couple of amazing catches along with brilliant ground fielding. Pakistan dropped Bairstow twice in the innings but were astute enough to pull up on the front later. Pakistan are not known for their fielding standards. In fact, they hardly inspire any confidence when it comes to fielding. But, they were remarkable on this occasion. The likes of Fakhar Zaman, Shadab Khan, Ahmed Shehzad, Imad Wasim, Hasan Ali, Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Hafeez are amazing fielders and did a good job.
When Moeen Ali top-edged a bouncer from Junaid Khan, it would have been safe to say that the ball will land safely or will be a dropped catch. But Fakhar Zaman covered some good ground stretched towards his left and pulled off a stunner. Good fielding always boosts the confidence of a bowler. Good fielding will always save runs for the side and the bowler will also not shy from experimenting.
When Hasan Ali trapped Adil Rashid leg before, all the fielders went up for the appeal while the batsman was looking to sneak a single. But, Ahmed Shehzad’s brilliant presence of mind and a direct hit ended Rashid’s innings on seven. Few overs later, Azhar Ali almost misjudged a pull from Liam Plunkett at deep square leg but did extremely well to recover and finish the catch.
Defending 212 did give English bowlers a chance to battle, but Pakistani openers came out hard and left no room for error. Fakhar Zaman and Azhar Ali milked runs at a brisk pace in the powerplay overs and steered their side to a comfortable position. The duo stitched a record 118-runs stand at the top and laid the foundation for a successful run-chase. Their batting didn’t show any kind of hurry and gunned down the target in the 38th over. One should also remember, Pakistan have not been a good chasing side in this format. But their batting stood up and responded to the occasion to register an emphatic victory.
Pakistan will gain immense confidence from this outing as they have beaten one of the strongest sides in the tournament. They have the momentum going and have developed as a unit with every outing. For the first time in the history of Champions Trophy, Pakistan have made it to the final and will now meet the winner of the second semi-final, which is being played between India and Bangladesh. It would be interesting to see if Pakistan manage to replicate this performance in the final as well. And if they do, it will only put them in a good position. As of now, the team is gearing up for the big match, which will be played on Sunday at The Oval.