There were fears that it could be a one-sided match in favor of England. It was indeed a one-sided, but in Pakistan’s favor as they crushed the title favorites by eight wickets to enter their first-ever Champions trophy final in Cardiff on Wednesday.
Cardiff’s charm lingered on as Pakistan, having beaten England at the same venue last year, was the better side in bowling and then batting, wrapping up England’s innings on 211 all out in 49.5 overs, a team so used to of crossing 300 in one-day internationals.
Then through brilliant and confident knocks from Azhar Ali (100 balls, 5x4s and a six) and Fakhar Zaman (57 off 58 balls with seven boundaries and a six) they romped home in 37.1 overs for a win which no one had predicted after they lost tamely to India by 124 runs in their first game. In the fourth attempt in a Champions Trophy final (losing the 2000, 2004 and 2009 semi-finals) they finally stepped into a final.
They wait one from arch-rivals India or fast turning a nemesis Bangladesh at The Oval on Sunday in what would be an all-Asian final. India and Bangladesh lock horns in the second semi-final at Edgbaston on Thursday.
There was a pre-match talk of the contrast in the ODI styles of both the teams, with England smashing totals of 300 plus 23 times in the last two years. Pakistan were playing old style cricket, relying mostly on their bowling.
With a modest target Pakistan cruised to 118 without loss, against a potent England bowling attack of Mark Wood, Liam Plunkett, Jack Ball and Ben Stokes. Once Zaman was stumped off Adil Rahseed, Babar Zaman () complemented Azhar to ensure the good work of the bowlers do not go waste as they added 55 for the second wicket. When Azhar was bowled by Ball, Pakistan needed just 39 more to win which was a formality.
Babar Azam scored 38 while Mohammad Hafeez who hit the winning boundary finished with 31.
Pakistan had a pre-match jolt when ace pacer Mohammad Amir was ruled out with back spasm. But as they say “an injury can turn into a blessing,” and it exactly happened with Rumman Raees filling in with figures of 2-44.
All bowlers bowled as per the plan of taking wickets and Sarfraz admirably used his bowlers with effective changes and that brought regular wickets for them. Hasan Ali was the pick of all chipping in with 3-35 in his ten overs of exceptional variation. With ten wickets he became the top wicket taker in the tournament – a reward for his consistency.
Jonny Bairstow survived a second ball leg-before appeal and review as the ball clipping less than it required for a leg before decision. Then Alex Hales was given leg before with the score on 24 but the batsman challenged the decision was stayed on.
Rumman provided Pakistan with the breakthrough when he had Hales caught in covers off a miscued drive before Hasan Ali came into his own. He forced a hook from Bairstow which was caught in the deep by Mohammad Hafeez. Bairstow, replacing an out of form Jason Roy, made 43.
Joe Root and Eoin Morgan took England to 128 when three wickets fell in the space of 20 runs off 23 balls and four in 66 balls off 34 runs to derail England to 6-62. Morgan lashed out at Hasan only to be caught behind while Root edged one from leg-spinner Shadab Khan.
It was all left to Ben Stokes but the aggressive left-hander failed to hit a single boundary in his laborious 64-ball 34. That summed up England’s innings, with periods of ten and 11 overs without a boundary.
Pakistan were rampant and confident in their starts with Fakhar Zaman cracking seven boundaries and a six in his 58-ball 57.