The wait for a global one-day tournament goes on for England after Pakistan outplayed and outthought them in Cardiff to set up an all-Asian Champions Trophy final at Edgbaston on Sunday.
The use of a pitch already played upon in Pakistan’s match against Sri Lanka on Monday raised a few eyebrows, given the importance of the match. But if the bare, dry nature of it favoured Pakistan, who are brought up on such surfaces, Eoin Morgan’s England side should have risen better to the cerebral challenge posed by conditions like these.
While few would disagree that it has been England who have played the most strident cricket in this tournament, this was not the occasion to show off one’s power or back catalogue.
Rather it was a moment which demanded subtlety and adaptation - for head to be engaged rather than the heart something Pakistan, perhaps surprisingly given their volatile nature, managed here far better than their opponents.
Modern batsmen have, in recent years, expanded wonderfully the palette of shots possible as well as the size of totals. But they like certainty, at least in their own minds, about what the pitch and bowlers are likely to do.
Here, both those things were great unknowns and while batting first should have been advantage on a pitch already worn from Monday's play, it also fed into that other great source of doubt for today’s batsmen - working out just exactly how many is a good score for the conditions.
At first, it looked to be a biggish one, at least after the early skirmishes. With Jonny Bairstow replacing the beleaguered Jason Roy as opener, and enjoying more than his fair share of luck as lbws were overturned and catches were dropped, England reached 80 for one in the 17th over, a platform from which 280 should have been possible.
Yet, that is when Pakistan began to reap the rewards of their cunning strategy for bowling on this pitch - which was to bring their spinners on early, not so much to peg England back but to scuff up the ball so their quicker bowlers, especially the excellent Hasan Ali who finished with three for 35, could get some reverse swing.
When reverse-swing is achieved by accurate bowlers who can control the late movement, boundaries dry up. And when boundaries dry up for the modern batsman (only three were struck in the last 20 overs), frustration takes hold and when that happens their wicket soon follows.
England were not shot out here by unplayable balls, rather they were ground down by their own insecurities. For one thing, they would have watched how Pakistan’s bowlers favoured the short ball against Sri Lanka on Monday, a ploy more to do with their opponents than the dimensions of ground (big square of the wicket but short straight).
If they were expecting the same thing it did not materialise. Instead, especially after the 30th over, they were fed a diet of swinging yorkers and slower balls, a combination which forced them to lose heart if not weight.
In spite of this “ambush,” four of the top five still got decent starts, each scoring in excess of 33. None went on to the big score that would set up a challenging total, mostly because none of them knew what that might be. Ben Stokes, so dominant against Australia last week, ended up becalmed, his 34 taking 64 balls and containing not a single boundary. But that is not unusual for today’s batsmen who tend to soak up dot balls as they block or bash their way to a score rather than take singles and rotate the strike.
Any complaints England might have had about the pitch would quickly have been shelved once Pakistan reached 100 without loss. True, Sarfraz Ahmed’s team had already sampled the strip on Monday, but if they had made it look tough then, mostly through jangled nerves, it was a different story second time round.
Their win, by eight wickets with 77 balls to spare, was a hammering, exposing the paucity of England’s ability to adapt and improvise as much as their own growing stature from underdogs to finalists.Reuse content