Cardiff June 14 (TNS): England’s campaign to secure their first trophy in a 50-over global tournament was strewn with pitfalls midway through their semi-final against Pakistan in Cardiff. Pakistan’s pressure was unrelenting on a dry, abrasive surface and the upshot was that they needed 212 for a place in the final. Pakistan struggled to get 237 here to beat Sri Lanka and this lower total might be equally challenging. This is not a pitch to stroke batsmen’s egos.
Nevertheless, they bowled with commendable skill. “You have to prepare for Pakistan as if they are at their best,” was the gist of Eoin Morgan’s assessment at the toss. It was a good thing, too, because the capricious nature of Pakistan cricket had come down this time on the side of 50 overs of vigorous, intelligent cricket.
There was finally a warm, sunny day to celebrate in Cardiff, but for England’s batsmen looking up was rather more encouraging than looking down. The pitch was the one on which Pakistan had won a semi-final spot by edging out Sri Lanka in frenzied fashion on Monday. They must have felt at home and responded marvellously.
England, who have been routine collectors of scores of 300-plus since the last World Cup, found life considerably more demanding. Certainly, the mood was different from the last time these two sides met in Cardiff, last September, when England habitually set more than 300 and Pakistan overhauled it with four wickets and 10 balls to spare.
Perhaps revealingly, Ben Stokes, who pummelled Australia at The Oval to knock them out of the tournament, failed to hit a boundary in scraping 34 from 64 balls before he struck a slower off-cutter from Hasan Ali straight up in the air 15 balls from the end. It felt like hard work: he might have been batting in dense air. England hit only 15 boundaries, only one in the last 11 overs – and that was an edge.
All six Pakistan bowlers acquitted themselves impressively, backed up by combative fielding. The wicketkeeper-captain, Sarfraz Ahmed, attacked where he could and helped himself to three catches along the way. Halfway through the game and Pakistan had produced a show where you marvel at their natural talent. But the curtain had still to rise for the second half.
Hasan, a fist-pumping, arm-outstretching inspiration, finished with 3 for 35 and his 10 wickets made him the leading wicket-taker in the tournament. He continued to sweet-talk the Kookaburra ball into occasional responses – a reluctant grunt of reverse here, a wink of compliance there.
Rumman Raees, his reputation enhanced in the Pakistan Super League, put in a solid shift of left-arm fast-medium on his ODI debut. Imad Wasim’s left-arm slows and the leg spin of the recalled Shadab Khan prospered on a dry, used surface, which also made the seasoned Mohammad Hafeez hard to combat.
That England reached 80 for 1 midway through the 17th over proved to be comparative luxury. It was at this stage that Jonny Bairstow – summoned in preference to the woefully out-of-touch Jason Roy, who had made 52 in eight knocks – fell for 43 from 57 balls. Joe Root and Eoin Morgan also got starts (not that Morgan ever settled), but apart from Stokes’ travails there was little else.
The absence of Mohammad Amir from Pakistan’s attack – a late withdrawal with what his captain, Sarfraz Ahmed, reported as “a back spasm” – was never missed. If there was a regret, it was personal, another blow for Amir who still awaits the magical day after his return from a match-fixing ban, which will pronounce incontrovertibly that he can achieve the standards that made him one of the most talked-about young fast bowlers in the world game.
Pakistan restricted England despite the sensation that luck was siding with the home side. Three reviews fell in their favour in the first half of the innings. Bairstow might have fallen lbw second ball, for nought. But Bairstow survived against Junaid Khan by virtue of umpire’s call and a plentiful supply of leg-side whips gave England the sort of start they had been lacking all summer.
Bairstow was dropped twice, too, on 27, when Azhar Ali failed to cling to a tough, leaping catch above his head, and again on 42 when he swiped at a wide one from Shadab Khan and another head-high chance this time evaded Babar Azam at slip.
Alex Hales overturned his dismissal, lbw to Raees on 9, but failed to prosper as the same bowler defeated his advance down the pitch courtesy of a catch at short extra cover. Morgan also benefited from a review, on 19, rightly confident that the deflection when he reverse-swept Shadab would prove to have come off his forearm.
If Bairstow had become anxious at England’s slowing progress – unnecessarily so, hindsight would suggest – it was nothing compared to the disquiet in the second half of the innings as the ball softened and reverse swing became evident. It has been a while since Morgan allowed himself such a prolonged period of assessment, a succession of defensive pushes at deliveries angled into him symbolising England’s unease.
Joe Root was England’s fall-back on such a surface and he proceeded to 46 from 56 balls with a succession of learned pushes that were beyond his team-mates – 30 singles in all – took painkillers in case his back played up, but fell cutting when Shadab summoned a little extra pace and bounce.
Morgan, fortunate not to be bowled by Hafeez when he tried to pull early in the innings, eventually charged at Hasan in desperation and the ball, not just wide but moving wider, was edged into the wicketkeeper’s hands. Jos Butter soon followed, Junaid angling the ball across him.
As Stokes laboured, nobody else filled him with hope. Moeen Ali departed to a top-edged pull against Junaid, excellently held on the run by Fakhar Zaman at deep square leg. Adil Rashid suffered a hangdog run-out after being struck by a yorker. England’s bowlers hoped they would be happier with a ball in their hands. Courtesy ESPN