“No plan,” said Prussian military strategist Helmuth van Moltke way back in 1880, “survives first contact with the enemy.” Eoin Morgan’s England apparently hadn’t read van Moltke.
Having watched the West Indies roll Pakistan over for 105 on May 31 at this same venue, Trent Bridge, England planned to stick the knife into that wound and twist. Liam Plunkett was benched and the superfast Mark Wood brought into the line-up. And England opted to chase on winning the toss, backing its recent history.
What England did not consider: Plunkett is third on the list of fast bowlers with the most wickets (87 in 52 innings) since the 2015 World Cup, behind only Kagiso Rabada and Trent Boult. Which says a lot considering the fast bowling riches in world cricket just now Also, he has a better strike rate than Rabada, and routinely bosses the middle overs, which is where he gets most of his wickets.
Von Moltke would have said “I told you so”, as England’s plan to blast out Pakistan collapsed in the face of an opposition with a mind of its own.
Chris Woakes opened the bowling alongside Jofra Archer, and the adrenalin-powered Fakhar Zaman took to the former to such good effect that Woakes went for 32 runs off his first four overs, one of which was a maiden, and Pakistan put on 69 without loss in the first ten overs.
The combination of Moeen Ali and Mark Wood reeled the scoring rate back in the next ten overs which produced just 42 runs for the wicket of Zaman, but by then England’s famed cool was visibly unravelling.
There were missed catches (Jason Roy flubbing a simple skier by Hafeez on 14 was the costliest, but not the only, miss), misfields, missed throws and – sure sign of a team under pressure – way too many conferences leading to way too many field changes after every other ball.
On a batting track, the only way to limit scoring is by taking wickets. Absent Plunkett, England found it didn’t have that ability in the middle phase – only three wickets fell in the overs 11-40.
The outcome: Pakistan’s batsmen shrugged off the trauma of their first outing and stitched together partnerships for each wicket: 82, 29, 88, 80 and 32 for wickets one to five respectively.
Also notable is the way Pakistan paced its innings: 69 in the first ten overs, 183 off the 30 overs in the middle phase, and 96 in the last ten.
Every Pakistani batsman knew his role and played it to near perfection: Imam (44 off 58) first, then Babar Azam (63 off 66) played anchor without letting the scoring rate dip; around them, first Fakhar (36 off 40) then Mohammed Hafeez (84 off 62) scored briskly.
Skipper Sarfaraz Ahmed promoted himself to number five and after a slow start, played his part with a 55-off-44 knock that helped power his side to the eventual 348/8 – Pakistan’s highest ever total in all World Cups.
England in the first half of the game was, to put it politely, undercooked with the ball and in the field. Archer misplaced his fire and ended up going for 79 in his ten overs with no wicket to show for it.
Moeen Ali had 3-50 in his ten, but his wickets came from a combination of batsmen looking to go big, and some brilliant catching in the deep by Chris Woakes who took a World Cup record four catches, two of them brilliant, and one off his own bowling.
Woakes however went for 71 in just eight overs, his three wickets coming in a manic period at the death when Pakistan, who had brought up the 300 in the 46th over, was looking to put pedal to the metal.
First half honours went to Pakistan. To recover from the Caribbean shock-and-awe of just four days earlier was in itself commendable; to reduce the tournament favourites, who on May 30 had brushed South Africa aside with casual contempt, to a ragged bunch both with the ball and in the field was to accomplish the unthinkable.
England, in fact, resembled South Africa in Sunday’s game against Bangladesh: Having come in to the game with a predetermined plan -- use pace to blast out an Asian side, as Morgan hinted at in his pre-match press conference – neither South Africa on Sunday nor England today had a clue what to do once Plan A proved a dud.
In contrast to England, Pakistan’s less vaunted attack started strong. Shadab opened the bowling with his leg spin, mirroring the tactic used by South Africa with Imran Tahir. And it worked – with the first ball of his second over the spinner pinned Roy in front and, to add insult to injury, England wasted its review trying to overturn that dismissal.
In the ninth over Wahab Riaz, bowling with a semblance of his old fire, got Bairstow nicking off; then Mohammed Hafeez hurried Eoin Morgan with a fuller length ball that defeated the England captain’s cut. And Shoaib Malik – who, like Hafeez, is really a part-time bowler – had Ben Stokes nicking off when the southpaw attempted to cut one that was too close to the stumps, and too full in length.
England, at that point, was 118/4 in the 22nd over, and in serious trouble. And it could have been worse if Babar Azam had held on to a Joe Root edge off Wahab when the batsman had scored just nine.
Root profited from that life, and from the presence at the other end of the flamboyant Jos Buttler. Together, the two began turning the game around, Root with his usual silken touch and Buttler with his unbridled power-hitting that saw him getting his 50 off just 34 – the second fastest in World Cup history. The 100-run partnership between the two, coming in the 35th over, took just 80 deliveries.
Pakistan clearly dominated the first 70 overs of the game; the Buttler-Root association finally got England back into the game. In the quiet of his own room tonight, Sarfaraz will likely think about this, and about how he let it happen.
When you have nothing to lose, you attack with a mind free of fear and doubt. But as Pakistan got into a position of strength, and to where the game was its to lose, the side lost some of its earlier insouciance.
The best examples occurred in overs 28 and 30. England was 166/4 after 27, the game was in balance; Sarfaraz brought on Wahab Riaz to try for a breakthrough.
Twice in those two overs, Wahab found the edge with away-swinging deliveries – first off Root, then in the 30th off Buttler. Both edges went for fours – there was no slip; one was placed only after the second horse had bolted.
Root, first dropped at slip, then reprieved because there was no slip, rode his luck and no little skill to a controlled, anchoring century off just 97 deliveries. And its value doubled because it allowed Buttler, who walked to the wicket 19.1 overs after Root, to bat freely. So well did he do it than when Root got to his 100, Buttler had already reached 72 off just 53 balls.
The 5th wicket partnership produced 130 runs, after the previous four wickets had produced stands of only 12, 48, 26 and 32 – stark contrast to the way Pakistan had built its total.
The thing with chasing big totals, though, is that you feel you are always behind the curve -- and the closer you get to the finish, the more the scoreboard pressure builds. In the 39th over Root, looking to reduce the runs to balls equation, first swept Shadab Khan uppishly and nearly holed out to short fine leg; two balls later, he tried a cut to a ball too close, and bouncing too high, for proper control and was caught at point – and, to mark his departure, the required run rate went above 9 for the first time in the innings, England needing 101 off 66 at the end of that over.
At the end of 40 overs, England was 258/5 (Pakistan at that stage was 252/3), needing 90 runs from the last 60 balls. Sarfaraz made his team’s job harder when, off the first ball of the 41st, he dropped a Moeen Ali edge off Shadab and, adding insult to injury, failed to stump the batsman as well.
When Buttler got to his 100 (off 75 balls, England’s fastest ever in World Cups, with 9 fours and two sixes), one stat stood out: There were just 18 dot balls. But the asking rate had climbed to 11, and the pressure told. Off the very next ball, Amir angled one away, slowing the pace down; Buttler miscued a cut through point and toe-ended it to short third man.
A combination of Amir, Hassan and Wahab proved too good for the lower England order, deep though it is. Woakes produced a flutter with a towering six off Wahab over long on, but Wahab struck back, taking out Moeen and Woakes off successive deliveries to finish the England resistance. And just to rub it in, Wahab then raced in from deep third man to grab a great catch off Jofra Archer, then bowled a tight final over to seal a 14-run win.
“History,” said the legendary Henry Ford, “is bunk.” And so it proved.
You know the history: Pakistan has lost 11 of its last 12 ODIs coming into this game (and the exception was a rained out game). The side has, as late as May of this year, twice put up 300-plus scores against this England side and lost both times. More history: England has won the last 17 games where it chased and, this year, has twice chased down 340-plus scores.
So much history. And on the day, so much bunk.
PostScript: The record for the highest chase in World Cup history remains with Ireland, who in 2011 chased down 329. Against England.