It was a case of yet another opportunity lost for England to win a 50-over ICC tournament. As they bowed out in the semi-finals after losing to Pakistan earlier today by 8 wickets with almost 13 overs to spare. Playing as hosts, England was the form team of the tournament, but on the crucial stage, they were unable to overcome the Pakistani challenge. The Pakistani batsmen for once completed a clinical chase as they finished off the good work of their bowlers who had earlier bowled out England for 211.
Cardiff has so far been a happy venue for Pakistan, which has now won all three of their games there. England, playing their second game there, chose to bat first in batting friendly conditions. Pakistan were playing without their ace bowler Md. Amir who missed out owing to a back spasm, with debutant Rumman Raees coming in his place. Raees, who has built his reputation from performances in the Pakistan Super League, picked up the first wicket of the England innings to give Pakistan a morale boost.
Despite the fall of Hales’ early wicket, England motored along in the powerplay thanks to the partnership between Root and Bairstow. Even thereafter, England seemed to continue at a decent pace despite fall of regular wickets as Bairstow, Root, Morgan and Stokes departed after getting to good starts. However, no one converted those starts to 100s or even 50s, putting their lower middle order under test for the first time in the tournament.
However, the English lower order was unable to put up a decent fight as the Pakistani bowlers were all over them since the half-way mark. England slipped from 128-2 to 211 all out. For Pakistan, Hassan Ali was once again the pick of the bowlers, picking up the wickets of Bairstow, Morgan and Stokes while Junaid and Rumman chipped in with 2 each.
Given the batting conditions, it appeared an easy chase. But the Pakistani batsmen had almost messed up a similar chase against SL on Monday, one of the weakest bowling attacks in the tournament giving the English bowlers some hope. However, Fakhar Zaman and Azhar Ali started their innings in determined fashion. They were severe on loose bowling from the England pacers as Pakistan raced to their 100 in the 18th over without any loss of wicket. From there on, it was a case of patient innings building since none of the opposition bowlers looked threatening enough to pick up any wickets. The Pakistanis charged the spinners regularly as they sought to kill off the chase as quickly as possible. Pakistan lost both the openers for well made half centuries; Fakhar scoring 57 off 58 and Azhar 76 off 100.
Babar Azam and Md. Hafeez then took over and made sure there was no collapse as Pakistan completed a professional performance to dispatch England empty handed from yet another ICC tournament. However, the victory should not be put down to England’s inability to cope with pressure. This was a case of Pakistan simply being too good on the day for the hosts. A couple of weeks back, their capitulating performance against arch rivals India had drawn their ire of their ex-cricketers and fans alike, but today, Pakistan made up for that loss in grand style. They will now await the winner of the 2nd semifinal between India and Bangladesh to make it an all-Asia final in this edition of the Champions Trophy on Sunday.