Pakistan came for Monday’s clash at the back of 11 straight defeats, the last of which was wrapped up in less than 34 overs. When they win, none of their batsmen scored a century, while England had two. Wahab Riaz bagged three wickets, England had two doing the same.
Pakistan turned up as a team, just like they hadn’t against the West Indies. England turned up only in patches: the brilliance of Chris Woakes on the field, Joe Root and Jos Buttler with the bat, and Moeen Ali with the ball, made them to fall 14 runs short.
Root cut Shadab Khan to short third man, stood his ground in disbelief and wrapped his face in dejection, he had become the first player to register a century in the 2019 World Cup. More importantly, he had taken England out of a delicate position to one of command in their pursuit of a record run chase. The target of 349 may have never been chased down in a World Cup, but has been breached several times over since September 2015, the same period in which England haven’t lost an ODI chasing. They had all to play for.
Root, was on 5 when an away-going delivery by Mohammad Amir kissed the outside edge of his bat and dropped by a left-diving Babar Azam. It was as regulation a catch as they come. By then, Jason Roy was dismissed, Jonny Bairstow beaten. It was a key period to assert the pressure on the hosts, which Pakistan missed again due to their fielding.
As the English top-order imploded to some disciplined bowling despite Pakistan’s now-characteristic substandard fielding, Root for the remaining part offered assurance. Roy was trapped leg-before by Shadab, Bairstow edged an away-cutting delivery by Wahab Riaz, Morgan bowled and Ben Stokes caught by the ‘keeper. At 118 for 4 in the 22nd over, even for the always-on-the-attack deep-batting-lineup of England, the record target had become imposing.
That by the time the fifth bowler’s quota – fulfilled by the part-time offspin of Shoaib Malik and Hafeez – was bowled, and that they had returned 2 for 53, it only made the challenge trickier. But Root and Buttler, in their styles, added quick runs, ate into the target and seized the momentum in their favour. While they hit 11 boundaries and three sixes during their 130-run alliance, quick running between the wickets remained a key feature of their partnership. That they were helped by Pakistan’s slip-ups on the field is one thing, but that they imposed themselves into the chase is to their credit.
However, the last 10 overs proved to be a game changer. Pakistan maintained their nerves and their lines to not allow England to get away. Even after Root fell, and Moeen Ali struggled through his innings, Buttler kept his cool, found the gaps, pressed for the extra runs and controlled the proceedings, bringing up his century in only 75 balls – the fastest by an Englishman in a World Cup. He kept up with the required rate and posed the biggest threat to Pakistan’s defense. However, Amir, who was arguably the best bowler on Monday, induced a few edges and created more wicket chances than credited for, lured the English ‘keeper with a cutter, and found another edge that had him caught by Wahab at short third man.
Woakes managed a few couples, a boundary and a six to keep the hosts in the game, but the 48th and 49th over, bowled by Wahab and Amir respectively helped Pakistan pull the contest back in their favour. The much-celebrated depth of England’s lower order failed to contest with the high scoring rate and were limited to 334 for 9. In a game where 682 runs were scored, it was a team that bowled better that won.
England’s miseries started quite early in the day when the plan to use bouncers as a weapon against the Pakistan batsmen, much like West Indies had done in their previous game, didn’t prove too effective. Having put in the hard yards in the nets over the last few days, the openers – Fakhar Zaman and Imam ul Haq were ready for the challenge. They pulled their way out of it, asserting their command over the new-ball pair, and slamming their way to 73 runs in the first 10 overs.
England worked their way back in the next phase with Moeen Ali bowling tight lines and Mark Wood using his cutters to good effect. Some fine ground fielding further helped their cause in a period where Pakistan lost both their openers: Zaman stumped and Imam falling prey to a fine side running catch by Chris Woakes at long off.
However, for as well as Woakes fielded – taking four catches – some of the others like Joe Root, James Vince and Eoin Morgan had their erring moments. However, none had a day as bad as Jason Roy, who not only dropped Mohammad Hafeez when he was on 14 but also misfielded when there arose an opportunity to run him out just after he had completed his half-century.
Hafeez made good use of his opportunity, and worked his way to a 62-ball 84, pairing up with Babar Azam and Sarfraz Ahmed in successive half-century stands – of 88 and 80 respectively – to set the base for the late flourish. It didn’t quite come through with Asif Ali and Shoaib Malik, both of whom fell early, but aided by some big hits from the tailenders and a total of 11 wides, Pakistan managed 348 for 8, a total that they were struggling to defend against the same opposition only a couple of weeks ago.