England 211 (Hasan Ali 3-35) LOST TO Pakistan 215-2 (Azhar Ali 76, Fakhar Zaman 57)
It was the only way you could see Pakistan winning. Win the toss, bowl first, skittle England for a below-par score. That way their batting line-up – which looked like one of the worst in the tournament – would have a chance of doing what was required. It all went about as perfectly as it could have for Sarfraz Ahmed’s team.
Although there was cause for concern about the state of the pitch – which was used just two days ago for Pakistan’s win over Sri Lanka and seemed tired during the first innings – England could hardly complain about that as Pakistan cantered to 215-2 from 37.1 overs to ease their way to victory.
As it was, a low-scoring game suited Pakistan, and their bowlers ensured it was just that after their skipper won the toss: to a man they continued the sublime form that earned their team victories over South Africa and Sri Lanka in the group stages, looking constantly threatening while offering very little to hit. Their seamers were skiddy and accurate, getting significant sideways movement and using the short and slower balls skilfully. Their spinners proved near impossible to get away.
All of which was summed up by the innings of Ben Stokes; while wickets fell around him, England’s premier allrounder was totally becalmed, unable to time a thing and without a boundary in the entirety of his 34 off 64 balls. The most telling aspect of that episode was that, at the time, it seemed unavoidable: the pitch was two-paced, the bowling too good. The real shock was just how easy Pakistan made things look in reply.
At no stage in Pakistan’s reply did England look like they had a chance. For all our suspicions that you just never know with Pakistan, the chase was utterly serene. Fakhar Zaman smashed boundaries at will for his 57. Azhar Ali cruised to 76. England’s 211 was proven to be completely inadequate.
This England team – so well led by Eoin Morgan, who had been in such fine form himself until today, when he struggled to 33 from 53 balls – has had its dream of winning a first ICC 50-over tournament suddenly crushed. They were quite rightly the favourites for the trophy coming into this game, and even now, when they bat first on a good track, you’d back them against anyone. But today they played their worst game of ODI cricket since the last match of the 2015 World Cup, when their revolution began.
This game should be a blip rather than the beginning of a new era. But this young and exciting side will have to wait two years, for the 2019 World Cup at home, for another shot at the big time. There will be some wounds to lick before then.