England win: the final report

Day 29.

England win

Think about all those years England were an absolute shambles at white ball cricket. In fact, forget that. The entire world was playing in coloured clothing with the new ball and England stuck with the red one in whites. And even when they moved to the pyjamas of everyone else, they kinda kept playing that way as well.

But lots of really interesting things were happening. They invented T20 as a marketing gimmick, but it gave them years of thinking different about white ball cricket over everyone else. And then they also had something else, a pro 40, which many of the best players came through. So they had 16.4s, 20s, 40s and 50 over experience.

And then they started taking the game seriously at the top. After 2015 Eoin Morgan, Trevor Bayliss and Nathan Leamon all did different things that led to England going from a 23 year embarrassment (with very occasional flare ups) to the best white ball team in the world.

But their original plan was fairly monosyllabic, see ball, hit ball, and try to take enough wickets to back that up. It meant when they got to Cardiff for the 2017 Champions trophy and something else was needed, they didn’t have it. But since then, they have built that too. They now have multiple ways to win white ball games, and by embracing Malan, and now Stokes, as anchors, they’re showing that it isn’t just about the biff.

This was a problem solving World Cup. The pitches in Tasmania and Victoria were damp and weird, Sydney had batting paradises that fell into dusty slow ones, Perth Stadium was trying to imitate the WACA, and Adelaide rolled out its old fashioned batting wicket for the semi final. Even by a normal World Cup standards, there were more problems that needed to be solved than usual.

England turned up wanting to whack every ball for six, and ended up winning by chipping it around and surviving ninety miles per hour on a helpful surface.

This is the team that made a run a ball a thing in ODI cricket, and have been the best team over the last three T20 World Cups. But they are still able to change how they play when they need too.

Pakistan has one extreme skillset, and they will play that way no matter. And they are so good at it, that even with Shaheen’s knee - and perhaps Fahkar Zaman’s injury - they almost pulled it off.

But twice now when England have made a World Cup, they have played a slightly off brand style to win the final. And they did it without Jofra Archer, Mark Wood, Jonny Bairstow, Dawid Malan and Reece Topley.

They are the first team to unify the two World Cups. And if we’re being honest, I still don’t think we’ve seen them at their best in a World Cup.

Adil and Curran

Bowling a wicket maiden in a T20 World Cup final is the sort of thing that happens in players’ dreams, it is not meant to happen in reality.

When he came on to bowl in the 8th over, Pakistan were already looking in trouble. They’d only made it to 45/1 and the normally explosive Mohammad Haris could barely seem to get bat on ball.

He attempted to slog Rashid’s first ball but got nowhere near the middle of the bat, Ben Stokes taking a simple catch well inside the rope at long on.

The best though was still to come. By the start of Rashid’s third over Pakistan were not in a much better state at 84/2, but had at least taken 16 off the last over and were looking to get their final back on track.

Rashid soon put an end to that. Again he struck with the first ball of his over. A googly to get Babar Azam – the athletic return catch to complete the caught and bowled the icing on the top.

He followed it with five dots to Iftikhar – a wicket maiden in a T20 World Cup final.

Rashid didn’t start the tournament looking as good a bowler but has moved wider in the crease as the competition has moved on and varied his pace. He release against India was 17cm wider than it was against Afghanistan and today was the slowest he has bowled all World Cup.

As turnarounds in form go, it couldn’t have happened at a better time for England. In their last three must-win games he has figures of 12-1-58/4 – delivering match-winning performances just when his team needed them.

Talking of match-winning performances with the ball for England, this has also very much been Sam Curran’s tournament.

Converted into a death bowler in the last few months seemingly for a lack of better options, he has finished as Player of the Tournament. (He probably wasn’t the best player, but it’s doubtful I would ever agree with the ICC choice).

Today he bowled superbly again, his four overs going for just 12, the wickets of Rizwan, Shan Masood and Mohammad Nawaz thrown in for good measure. That took him to 13 wickets for the tournament, only Wanindu Hasaranga has more and having played two more games.

England brought him and made him bowl at the death. And that has gone spectacularly well.

This was a big risk, we talk about their risks in their batting, but getting a plucky medium fast bowler who usually swings it at the top and making him bowl at the death in a World Cup, and then a World Cup final. That’s huge. Especially considering how it went last time for Stokes.

Methodical England

They waited for Mohammad Rizwan to be dismissed before trying Adil Rashid, and when he bowled he had a double positive match up, with Babar not enjoying his wrong’uns, and Mohammad Haris.

Mohammad Haris lived up to exactly what I said beforehand.

We know he can smack right arm seam everywhere, but how was he going to play against a team that had so many options for him.

Today he made all his runs from the right arm seamers, faced four dot balls from Curran and was out first ball from Rashid. We don’t have a lot of information on him yet, but England had enough.

And if you stay with the match up episode, you will see England had two positive bowling ones, and it was Rashid versus Babar, and then Curran vs Rizwan. They both worked. On any other day that might not have happened. But it meant that early on they had Pakistan’s two biggest run scorers gone, and then they used the dimensions of the field after that.

They amount of times England had a fielder 15-20 metres in from the boundary was incredible in this game. Teams do it here, England didn’t invent anything. But England really committed to the bit, and importantly we never saw the ball fly over their heads. England had the players in the right areas so many times.

Look at the two wickets of Shan Masood and Mohammad Nawaz. Livingstone is catching these about 30 metres from the boundary, yet he’s not running in to get them. He’s basically standing still because of how far he was in. He was in a short deep midwicket place. And Pakistan would find him three times, and only once did he have to run in and catch the ball low.

Playing the man and the field.

Pakistan Anchors

This has been an anchor tournament, and Pakistan is a triple anchor set up. By bringing Shan Masood back, they went in with another version, which considering they other two failed earlier in this tournament, it worked.  Even though Pakistan lost against India and Zimbabwe, Shan kept them in both.

But the problem with anchors who play the catch ups is when they don’t. Any player can fail early. That’s a normal part of cricket. But being dismissed when you have faced 15 or 28 balls and are not scoring much better than a run a ball means the rest of the team really have to score fro, the remaining two thirds of the game.

However, the other thing about the anchors in this team is that the rest of their batting is not that strong. Mohammad Haris came in with question marks over his batting against anything not right arm seam. Iftikhar has been incredible with the bat over the last couple of months, but is not a certain thing with the bat.

Shadab has averaged around 20 in the last two years of T20, nothing wrong with that, and I think he can build on what he has to become a really good number four or five. Nawaz has traditionally been better than that. But again he’s averaged 20 this year.

So whether you agree with Pakistan’s triple anchor threat or not, it needs to come off for them to make decent totals more often than not. Today only Shan Masood scored at a good rate. But even then, the others did not step up.

England anchors

But England have anchors too, neither of them are traditional in any way. In fact their main anchor is Dawid Malan, who about 12 overs into this game suddenly started to look like a huge omission due to that groin injury, .

So they were left with their unorthodox pair. Jos Buttler is an anchor who scores very fast, but often holds his batting line ups together. Had had made it to the ten over mark of this game it was over, but he didn’t.

So it was left to Ben Stokes. In his career Stokes has been late innings power player, middle order aggressor, opening batter, and now this middle anchor role. Buttler knew he wasn’t a great player by T20 numbers, but everyone also knows he is Ben Stokes. The obvious thing for him was this role. And so despite having heaps of specialists in the team they went about carving out a spot for him.

And on the face of it, the new ball bowler who gets a few soft overs and the guy who knocks it around for ones is about the weirdest role for the wild beast of cricket. But then anchor role always made the most sense, had Bairstow been fit, Stokes at number three knocking it around ahead of Malan would probably have been the call. But they ended up having both, and considering the wickets and way this tournament has been played, that was a huge thing.

The team that set up to hit, suddenly had an anchor they really trusted. And they needed that today. Moeen Ali and Jos Buttler did the hitting, which lopped the top and bottom off this chase. But it was Stokes that held it together when the Pakistan bowlers looked too good for England.

This was a proper anchor innings, in fact, he was 21 from 31, which at that stage was flirting with a match losing innings. And had he holed out of Ifthikhar’s surprise over. He was 28 from 35 as that ball went a couple inches from a catch. That’s often what happens, you get behind and then you play one shot and get out.

Instead it went short, and Stokes hit ten runs in his next two balls.

What is remarkable about all this is that England out anchored Pakistan.

And now Ben Stokes has played the most important innings for England in Tests, ODI and T20, let’s hope he gets a T10 or hundred international tournament to have a go in.

Shaheen’s knee

In the end it was the wicket of Harry Brook that won England this game. Not because he was clogging the game up, although his strike rate of 87 wasn’t doing England many favours, but because of what it cost Pakistan to claim it.

Brook fell trying to hit Shadab Khan over long off, only succeeding in picking out Shaheen Afridi. Afridi though slipped awkwardly as he took the catch, twisting his right knee. It was the moment that ultimately turned the final in England’s favour.

It had been an injury to that knee that had kept Shaheen out of action in the lead up to this tournament. The ligament injury he sustained touring Sri Lanka in July had kept him out of the Asia Cup and its rehabilitation had caused its own mini controversy.

Whether he aggravated that injury or simply suffered a fresh one is unclear.

In the end Afridi was only off the field for an over, his return cheered hugely by the mainly Pakistan  supporting crowd. But he didn’t seem entirely right, in conversation with a physio while fielding on the boundary.

An over later he was back on to bowl, England 97/4, 41 needed from 30 balls, the game unbelievably slipping away before them. Afridi though was clearly struggling.

He pulled out of his run up attempting his first ball of the over. He managed to bowl it second time around, but that was it. He couldn’t go on. Iftikhar Ahmed would have to finish the over for him.

He got away with three singles from his first three balls, but he and Pakistan didn’t make it out of the over intact.

Stokes hit the fifth through the covers for four, the sixth straight over long off for six. England took 13 from Iftikhar’s five balls and suddenly it was down to 28 from 24.

With that it seemed Pakistan’s spirit had been broken, England took 16 from the following over and then won the match with the last ball of the next. At least that spared Mohammad Nawaz from yet more last over nightmares.


In a tournament defined by coming back from seemingly impossible positions from a team who specialise in that, Pakistan finally found a situation they couldn’t wriggle out of.

Pakistan seemed in trouble from pretty much the first over. Their inability to punish a start from Ben Stokes consisting of a no ball and then a wide, with the free hit a dot ball, and the over going for just 8 – seemed like a bad omen.

On a used surface that was not fitting for a World Cup final, they never got going with the bat. The powerplay saw them just 39/1. They limped to 137/8 from their 20 overs – and in truth that should have seen England win the game easily.

Pakistan at least made them work for the win. There was the opening over dismissal of Alex Hales to blow the roof off the MCG. Then the wicket of Jos Buttler in the last over of the poweplay, a vital strike just as he and England looked to be pulling ahead fairly decisively.

Naseem Shah bowled one of the great wicketless spells, desperately unlucky not to strike in his 4 overs for 30. He along with Haris Rauf and Shadab Khan squeezed England through the middle overs, the five of 11-15 going for just 20 runs. Pressure put firmly on England.

After their batting, Pakistan needed to be flawless with the ball. And they weren’t. But hell, they were pretty damn good anyway.

But in a tournament that had seen them lose to Zimbabwe and still qualify. Needing the Netherlands to beat South Africa and then watching it happen. Their luck finally ran out.

The injury to Shaheen was one final obstacle they just couldn’t overcome. The cornered tigers ended up stuck in the corner. But from 0-2, they certainly fought until the end.

But this was in many ways a contest between head and heart. Skill and planning. The accountants beat the artists.

Huge thanks to Charlie Reynolds for all his work this World Cup. If you don’t follow him, you’re missing out. He’s very funny on Twitter, and he was huge for me this World Cup.