England vs. Pakistan – Champions Trophy 2017

Going into the first semi final, it’s hard to imagine two more different teams being involved. England’s selection and performances since the 2015 World Cup debacle have been incredibly consistent (“Predictable”, some might say) whilst Pakistan can most charitably be called “mercurial”. England rely on their strong batting to counter their weak bowling and win games, whilst Pakistan’s bowlers keep them in games that their lacklustre batting would otherwise forfeit. England sacrificed a little of their consistency in selection for this game, finally replacing Jason Roy with Jonny Bairstow as their opener. For Pakistan, former guest of the English penal system Mohammad Amir was forced to pull out of the game due to a back spasm.

Pakistan won the toss and elected to field first, a choice which surprised many who thought that Pakistan’s spin bowlers would favour bowling last on a pitch which had already being used twice in recent weeks. All eyes were on England’s new opener Bairstow, who was lucky to survive a second-ball LBW shout. He continued to ride his luck through two dropped chances before finally being caught on 43. A useful partnership between Root and Morgan followed, adding another 48 to the total. At the halfway stage, England were 118-2 and looked to be setting a total near 300.

The second half of the innings was dominated by Pakistan. Unable to deal with Pakistan’s tight bowling or the slow nature of the pitch, England’s run rate slowed to a crawl and whenever they tried to accelerate they inevitably lost their wicket. Ben Stokes managed to scrape together a score of 34 runs from 64 balls with no boundaries, but everyone else fell for 11 or less. England lost their last wicket with one ball left to go with a decidedly sub-par score of 211.

The second innings was a complete contrast to the first. Without facing any kind of scoreboard pressure, Azhar Ali and Fakhar Zaman seemed content to play safe whilst punishing the bad balls. They were helped by England’s bowling, which provided enough bad balls to always keep Pakistan well ahead of their required run rate. Unlike when England were batting, there were seemingly no dropped chances or false shots. Rashid eventually managed to get Zaman stumped on 57, but by then Pakistan were already too close to their target. Even Pakistan couldn’t lose from there, and they didn’t. Pakistan reached their target having lost only 2 wickets and with 13 overs to spare, capping a humiliating loss for England.

And so, like after every tournament exit, there will be a post-mortem by the great and the good of English cricket. And also us. Certainly much has been made during the game of the pitch, for which this was the third time it was being used within a few weeks. It definitely seems puzzling from the perspective of the ICC or ECB since you would assume they’d want batting-friendly surfaces which deliver tons of runs and sixes for TV audiences, particularly in the later knockout stages which attract the most viewers. This shouldn’t absolve the England team from blame, though. The conditions were the same for both teams and England just didn’t adapt well enough. It’s hard to see how this might be remedied, with England’s packed schedule there’s no time for many players to spend in different countries learning how to cope on pitches which don’t seam, or swing, or have uneven bounce.

There’s also the matter of personnel. Winning the Champions Trophy would have secured a lot of people’s jobs at the ECB, even if they lost the upcoming Ashes series. Following today’s result, I’d be surprised if Trevor Bayliss could survive losing the series down under this winter. That would in turn increase the pressure on the ECB’s Director Comma England Cricket, Andrew Strauss, as the man who hired him. In the short term Paul Farbrace, England’s specialist coaches and the selectors might be in trouble if the ECB wants to make an immediate change.

As for the players themselves, that’s a tougher one to work out. There doesn’t appear to be much debate about this England XI being the strongest team available. None of them are old enough that they might be out of contention for the next major ODI tournament in 2019 either, so I would guess that England will stick with them all. Certainly this game shows that England players as a whole need to spend more time playing in different conditions. Whether that means letting them play in T20 leagues (and not just the IPL), or more Lions tours, or training camps, something clearly needs to be done.

As always, please comment below.

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