England came into the first semi-final of the ICC Champions Trophy 2017 in Cardiff on Wednesday after scoring in excess of 300 in two of its group games and destroying Australia with its batting might in the other. But all of that added up to not much as it ran into a spirited Pakistan unit, which bowled the home side out for 211 in 49.4 overs.
Pakistan suffered a crucial blow on the morning of the game when Mohammad Amir was ruled out with back spasms, but the rest of the attack stood up, and how! The pacers were on the money and the spinners choked the run-flow, never letting England get away on a pitch that was tricky for strokeplay. That England managed only a modest score despite four of its top five crossing 30 tells a story.
That Pakistan bowled well is no surprise but the completeness of its performances on the field was impressive. It started right with the captain, who had a terrific day with almost every decision working wonders: Sarfraz Ahmed handed Rumman Raees a debut in place of Amir and he delivered; Shadab Khan was brought in for Faheem Ashraf and he too did his job.
On the field, Sarfraz kept attacking England with aggressive fields; he even employed a short-leg for Ben Stokes, who came into the game on the back of a marauding century. The bowling changes were impressive too: Hasan Ali struck twice in the first overs of his first two spells to break important partnerships. Pakistan’s fielding was also top notch; there was a stunning catch in the deep and also a run out with a direct hit.
The first 10 overs of the game were action packed with fortunes swinging rapidly. It started with the second ball when Junaid Khan was unlucky not to get a tight lbw call, an ‘umpire’s call’ saving Jonny Bairstow by the thinnest of margins.
Three overs later, Pakistan got an lbw decision in its favour when Raees hit Alex Hales’s pads, but the review by England went against it once again. Raees had his man a couple of overs later, though, when Hales stepped out and drove straight to cover. He could have had another had Azhar Ali held on to a very tough chance at mid-wicket off Bairstow’s pull.
Pakistan tried to stifle the scoring early by introducing Imad Wasim’s left-arm spin in the seventh over, but England still got the runs against the pacers and reached 52 at the end of the first ten.
Bairstow got going and enjoyed more luck when he was put down on 42 at slip by Babar Azam off Shadab, with the rebound nearly travelling to the backward point fielder. Bairstow, however, couldn’t make use of the fortune and slogged Hasan’s third ball straight to deep mid-wicket after adding just one more run.
Once Hasan provided the breakthrough, Sarfraz applied the choke in the middle overs with some smart captaincy. He got Mohammad Hafeez to bowl to Eoin Morgan straightaway, which meant the England captain couldn’t get going like he usually does.
With Hasan also keeping things tight, Morgan took 21 balls for his first boundary and never looked settled, even surviving an lbw appeal on review. Root too went 37 balls without a boundary before edging Shadab to the wicket-keeper, leaving England struggling for momentum at 128 for 3 in the 28th over.
The dismissal reunited the pair that toyed with Australia’s bowlers recently, but soon found out that Pakistan was a different challenge altogether. Sarfraz attacked Stokes with a short-leg and a slip and Hafeez ran through his tidy spell conceding just 27 runs from seven overs.
There would be no release even after the spinners were done as Pakistan’s pacers ran through the middle order just like they had against Sri Lanka. Hasan first returned to find Morgan’s edge in the 32nd over before Junaid did the same to Jos Buttler, who tamely poked to the wicket-keeper first ball after drinks.
Moeen Ali started briskly but his old nemesis – the short ball – ended his stay when he hooked Junaid to deep square-leg where Fakhar Zaman took a sensational catch diving to his left.
England was limping at 169 for 6 after 40, having lost 4 for 44 in 11 overs. Junaid completed a second spell of 2 for 15 from five overs and the death bowling by Raees and Hasan was equally miserly.
Even Stokes struggled to break free, managing only 34 off 64 balls without a single boundary. England scored only one boundary in the last 12 overs, adding only 42 in the last 10.