The first Semi-Final of the ICC Champions Trophy 2017 is done and dusted. England would love to go back 24 hours and restart this match. Pakistan will be sitting in their rooms wondering how they manage to crush tournament’s hot favourites.
Well, this is what Pakistanis are known for – unpredictability. This tag attaches itself to every member of the green army. England, on the other hand, had their worst day in one-day cricket after 2015 World Cup. It came at the wrong time though. A Semi-Final of the Champions Trophy at home.
Did England just choke on the Big Day?
Many have admired England’s brand of cricket since their debacle in 2015 World Cup. In a recent press conference, captain Eoin Morgan said the 2015 game vs New Zealand at Auckland was ‘men vs boys’. Obviously putting his team into boys category. Since then, we have seen a different England.
Scoring 300 was becoming a theme, openers giving flying starts. The middle order has explosiveness as well as guile. Batting deep with genuine allrounders has been their strength.
It all came down to hosting an ICC Champions Trophy and starting as favourites. They lived up to the tag of winners throughout the group stage. Beating Bangladesh, New Zealand and Australia wasn’t an easy task at all.
Then, arrived the big game vs Pakistan. For the past two years, England have been known for playing pressure-free cricket. This brings out the best from their group of players. ‘Fearless cricket’ is the term. That mentality was severely lacking today.
Batting lacked cutting edge throughout:-
To start with, opening with Bairstow was a little surprising, dropping Roy wasn’t. Hales never looked comfortable at the crease before getting out. Root and Bairstow tried to restore the momentum but were unable to find boundaries. This enabled Sarfaraz and Pakistan to keep attacking with close fielders.
After Bairstow’s dismissal, there was a period of a lull from Root and Morgan. It seemed like they’re not liking this situation. Morgan tried to hit out but couldn’t. Root got frustrated (back spasm) and nicked one to the Pakistan keeper. Skipper followed the suit by playing a rash shot and falling at the wrong time. Reason being a scarcity of boundaries in middle overs. 33 off 53 is very slow in modern-day.
With the dismissal of Buttler and England being 149-5 at 35 overs, the onus was on Ben Stokes, the hero of their previous game vs Australia to get his team to 250. Moeen Ali again perishing to a short ball endured further misery. Stokes was left pondering from the other hand as he lost partners at regular intervals. He made 34 off 64 with no boundaries and got himself out literally with a lazy swipe.
Bowling and Captaincy too predictable:-
England got bowled out for 211 and failed to defend. Bowling was inexperienced to click on the big stage. Wood, Ball are just newcomers who haven’t played at this huge stage before. The plan to bowl short made it easy for Pakistani batsmen. There seemed to be no plan B as the bowlers kept bowling way too short on a slow wicket.
To contradict, 16 wickets have been taken from short deliveries in Cardiff this tournament. But, using a short ball as a surprise element is quite different from using it as a stock ball. England did the latter and paid the price.
Captaincy from Morgan remained placid throughout the game. He could have brought an off-spinner early to disrupt the momentum Fakhar Zaman was getting. His plan to bounce out Pakistan back-fired. The field settings and bowling changes never looked inspired. A collective bad day for England at the wrong time. Probably one to learn for the 2019 World Cup.
Pakistan too good on the day:-
It all started very badly for Pakistan, losing emphatically to India. Then they shoved off South Africa and Sri Lanka to reach the semi-finals. Many weren’t expecting them to reach this far but this is Pakistan for you, always turn up in ICC events.
The semi-final started according to plan for Sarfaraz and his men, winning the toss and chasing. They had good memories of chasing at Cardiff, 303 against England last summer and beating Sri Lanka two days ago.
Losing Amir was a blow but bringing in leg-spinner Shadab and a left-arm pacer Raees were intelligent picks. They started well with the ball and kept the pressure throughout. Bowling good length and mostly wicket to wicket. This forced false shots from English batsmen. Then, the ball became little old and likes of Junaid with Hassan Ali started to exploit it.
Junaid got Buttler had shades of a little movement of the deck. Hassan Ali removing Morgan with a bit of seam movement away from the left-hander. Shadab and Hafeez keeping it tight was admirable.
It is a testament to Sarfaraz and his captaincy the way his bowling and fielding unit stepped up on the big day. Fakhar Zaman took a brilliant catch, Shehzad (sub) with a direct hit to catch Rashid short. Many other examples are there.
Pakistan batted superbly to make the chase look small:-
With 212 to chase, a good start was all that required making this look smaller. Fakhar and Azhar gave them that platform. A 100 run opening partnership, a rarity in Pakistan was achieved by this pair. In fact, this is the first 100 run opening partnership since Champions Trophy 2009 which did not feature Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan.
Azhar’s composure despite losing Zaman was immaculate, Babar played freely. England went flat and Pakistan got on the charge. Even after the dismissal of Azhar, Hafeez came out and had an attacking intent. Never allow the bowling to settle in their line and lengths was their main aim. They succeeded in that.
In the end, one would say Pakistan were too good on the day. Bowling has come to the party but batting performances like this will just make this team a world-beater. They are one good game away from that tag.