Pakistan slam brakes on England's cruise control
by Owen Riley

Scorecard:England v Pakistan
Event:ICC Champions Trophy 2017
Other links:The Cricketer

DateLine: 15th June 2017


It was going so well... England were living up to the jinxing favourites tag branded across their foreheads, in some style too. Bangladesh, New Zealand and Australia were dispatched as the hosts steamrolled into the final four as the only unbeaten team.


Thursday was supposed to be all about sitting back and waiting to see which team England would meet at The Oval on Sunday...


Pakistan had other ideas. Now we are faced with dissecting why England's quest for silverware is over.


After being well beaten by India in their opening match, Pakistan bounced back with victories over South Africa and Sri Lanka – largely thanks to some fine bowling displays - to book a semi-final date with the hosts.


England’s batting has been on cruise control for the most part in this tournament, but in Cardiff, Pakistan were excellent in putting the brakes on their charge.


England finally buckled under the pressure of Jason Roy’s continued poor form and brought in Jonny Bairstow. Opening for the first time in international white-ball cricket, Bairstow’s 43 outscored all three of Roy’s tournament innings put together. It was certainly not chanceless, surviving a second-ball lbw shout on review and being put down twice, although not straightforward chances.


When Bairstow’s one and only Champions Trophy knock came to an end, England were 80 for 2 and with no real reason for alarm bells to start ringing. But rather than accelerate through the middle overs, Pakistan applied the squeeze and England never broke free.


When Joe Root fell four short of his half-century, Eoin Morgan and Ben Stokes who produced a devastating partnership against Australia, never got going.


The Stokes we are so used to watching, driven by Red Bull, diesel and an underlying veil of aggression, was missing, it’s like his tattoos were drawn on.


England needed someone to dig in, no doubt, but Stokes appeared to keep on digging, and digging... he faced 64 deliveries without hitting a single boundary. He had little to no help down the order, but where was the V8, the fire, the muscle?


Much has been made of England’s depth in batting, and they have been accomplished down the order, whether that be recovering from early wickets and building an innings, or pressing home an advantage, building on top-order runs. They just ran out of steam at the worst possible time.


For all of England’s lack of thrust, credit must go to Pakistan’s attack – led by the highly-talented Hasan Ali – for suffocating them and making the most of a used pitch which the hosts couldn’t get to grips with.


They were probing, wouldn’t let England settle, and most importantly, they took wickets with a regularity that broke partnerships before they were allowed to flourish.


England produced partnerships of 159 and 143* against Bangladesh, 81 and 54 against New Zealand, and an unbeaten stand of 159 to down Australia. At Cardiff they wouldn’t see a partnership pass fifty.


At times Pakistan’s fielding has been nothing short of shambolic, here they stepped it up several notches. There were the two drops off Bairstow, neither a dolly, but Fakhar Zaman’s full length dive in the deep to snare Moeen Ali was splendid, and Ahmed Shehzad was sharp to run out Adil Rashid.


While Paksitan made jittery work of chasing 237 against Sri Lanka, they made knocking off 211 look like a countryside ramble. The way Pakistan went about their chase, you’d have thought Micky Arthur had snuck down between innings and laid down a new strip.


Azhar Ali is not noted for his electric strike rate, but he alone scored more sixes (one) than England did in their entire innings. As far as the heavenly heights of modern white-ball strike rates go, Azhar may as well be the Antichrist. But he didn’t need to be anything other than steady.


Fakhar and Azhar came out swinging. There was nothing to lose, no time for nerves, just go after it. Whereas England nudged, nurdled and struggled to get to grips with the Pakistan attack. Fakhar and Azhar were on the front foot straightaway, putting the pressure back on the bowlers, Pakistan never gave England a hope chasing the target just two wickets down and with 77 balls to spare.


As far as the autopsy goes, this hasn’t been a car crash like the 2015 World Cup, where England were bruised, battered, and lost their way limb by limb. Far from it, they were in rude health up until the semi-final but Pakistan stopped them in their tracks.


The bowlers failed to continue their wicket-taking knack, which is difficult to criticise with only 211 on the board. In truth, conditions, and Pakistan’s excellence aside, it felt like we were watching the England of old, or at least, an England of not so long ago. England have backed themselves, and backed themselves, and it has made compelling viewing, even when the wheels are torn off and it all goes rapidly downhill as it did at Lord’s last month. At Cardiff it felt like that unrelenting desire to attack was absent and that must be the most disheartening aspect for Morgan and co. They went down, not fighting, not in a blaze of glory, but with a whimper.


(Article: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author only.
Copyright © 2017 The Cricketer)


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