By Sidhanta Patnaik
Unbroken eighth-wicket stand of 63 runs saves the day for Pakistan against England
After restricting England to 204-7, Pakistan fumbled in its chase before Zafar Gohar and Amad Butt showed amazing composure in an emotionally draining atmosphere to put on an unbroken 63-run stand for the eighth wicket to take its side to the final with five balls to spare.
When Gohar and Butt came together, Pakistan was tottering at 142-7 and the game looked to be England’s. With 13 overs still remaining, it knew that the situation demanded sensible batting instead of wild slogging. And, egged on by a significant number of supporters in the stands, Pakistan went about its business meticulously.
Except for the odd boundary, the two scored mostly in singles. As Pakistan inched closer to the target, England buckled under pressure on the field. With Pakistan needing 16 off 16 balls, more sloppiness on the field meant that Jack Winslade had only four runs to defend in the final over, which he conceded to Butt with a full toss off the first delivery.
Pakistan started its chase on a sedate note before Imam-ul-Haq, who had pulled his hamstring in the 42nd over of England’s innings, and Sami Aslam took the punt and attacked Winslade to hit three fours in the sixth over of the innings.
Sensing that Imam and Aslam – who had three century stands coming into the game – were enjoying the pace of the ball, captain Will Rhodes introduced off-spinner Robert Sayer in the eighth over, which proved to be a masterstroke.
Going for one shot too many, Aslam attempted a sweep to the wrong line and was trapped lbw. A little later, Rhodes deceived Hasan Raza with a slower delivery and the batsman drove it straight to Sayer at mid-off. That made the total 57 for 2, which became 57 for 4 after a sensational collapse.
Imam, who looked in terrible pain, missed the line off Robert Jones and was struck on the pads and was given out.
After that, Kamran Ghulam pulled a short delivery from Jones straight to Ben Duckett at short mid-wicket and suddenly, before the floodlights were on, Pakistan was struggling and the tension in the stands was palpable.
Saud Shakeel and Ameer Hamza went about rebuilding the innings diligently after that, keeping things simple but punishing the loose deliveries from the spinners. Wicketkeeper Joe Clarke dropped Shakeel on 14 and the pair added 74 runs as it looked like the pressure was taking its toll on the players.
Once Rhodes brought back his seamers, Sayer had Hamza lbw for 35, and that opened the floodgates again as Matthew Fisher had Saifullah Khan and Shakeel caught behind off similar short deliveries.
Shakeel made 45 but the way he soaked up the pressure was remarkable. It was a lesson Butt and Gohar learnt well, eventually remaining unbeaten on 26 and 37 respectively.
That the game reached the situation it did after England was reduced to 69 for 4 was because of Rhodes, who scored an unbeaten 76, and Ryan Higgins, who made 52, and some handy partnerships down the order.
England’s inability to rotate the strike had been one of the areas of concern for the team in the initial stages of the tournament, but it looked like it had sorted out against India. However, it came back to haunt England in this game.
England took 21 balls to score the first run off the bat, but by then, Zia-ul-Haq had sent Jonathan Tattersall back. Zia set up Tattersall with a series of driving-length deliveries, which the batsman was not able to hit through the infield, and then bowled one a bit short, which Tattersall hit straight to Imam at backward point. Soon after that, Harry Finch, short on footwork, hit a length delivery from Butt straight to Raza at short cover and England were 1 for 2.
Duckett showed intent but Raza pulled off one of the best catches of the tournament to send him back. Duckett had flicked an overpitched delivery from Zia, and Raza dived to his right at short mid-wicket and caught the ball with two hands, leaving the batsman looking shell-shocked.
England tried to get on top of the game by opting for the Power Play in the 17th over, a strategy that had worked against India, but it could score only 15 runs as the Pakistani bowlers continued to bowl in the right channel. The lack of runs got to Ed Barnard as he dragged a delivery from Ghulam on to the stumps.
Barnard looked disappointed, and he had every reason to be as, in his company, Higgins was slowly starting to take charge. Higgins, however, found an ally in Rhodes. While Higgins was intent on holding his end up, Rhodes used his feet well against the spinners.
One stretch in the innings did not see a boundary being scored for 97 balls, before Rhodes pulled a short delivery from the left-arm spinner Shakeel to break the shackles.
England’s plan of taking the game into the slog overs, during which it has usually been productive, was working well till Karamat Ali picked up two wickets in two balls in the 38th over. He broke the 50-run stand as Higgins was deceived by flight and turn to be stumped for 52 in 99 balls, with just one hit to the fence. With his next delivery, Karamat accounted for Clarke, who had made a vital 42 against India, with a googly.
With England reduced to 119 for 6, Pakistan seemed to have pulled things back, but Rhodes took charge after that. Rhodes, targeted the straight boundaries, hit two massive sixes as England scored 50 runs in the last five overs.
That seemed to have done the job till Gohar and Butt made it Pakistan's night.