“They turned up here today expecting to win…” former England captain Nasser Hussain unabashedly declared immediately after Pakistan’s unexpected 14-run win over the home team at Trent Bridge yesterday.
Hussain can finish his own sentences and, given the choice before the game, he’d probably have opted for “… because they feel they can chase down anything on this ground.”
The appropriate ending, however is “…but the wrong Pakistan turned up!”
The right Pakistan would have been the self-doubting team that lost all four matches in the recent series against the hosts, lost a warm-up game to Afghanistan, lost their opening game to the West Indies after being skittled for 105 and had lost 11 ODIs on the trot before yesterday.
So English confidence was understandable, especially as it is at Trent Bridge that England have posted ODI cricket’s two biggest scores. In the event, their overconfidence proved manifestly misplaced.
The 348 for 8 that Pakistan, put in to bat, made today was more than the 444 for three England got to beat them in June 2016 but less than the 481 the home side blasted off Australia in August last year.
More to the point, however, was that the highest second innings score by any team in a World Cup is the 329 for 7 Ireland made to get the better of England in Bangalore in 2011. That little statistic provided added incentive for Eoin Morgan’s troops to get past 348 and erase that little negative from the record books.
Pakistan’s captain Safaraz Ahmed had a different script. He never abandoned it even when, with Joe Root and Joss Butler going great guns in the middle phase of the game, TV’s Win Predictor inverted the chances of a Pakistan win from the 75% in favour at the end of their innings to 75% against.
And once Buttler perished at 288 for 6 with just over five overs left, Win Predictor’s prognosis became irrelevant as the task proved beyond the much vaunted English lower order. Just as Safaraz had wagered.
The early auguries in the chase had seemed to favour the home side. Mohammad Amir’s first ball ducked in from outside off and missed Jonny Bairstow’s stumps by a whisker. After Jason Roy tried unsuccessfully to sweep Shadab Khan off his stumps, Root, on 9, edged Wahab low to Babar Azam’s left at slip only to see the right-hander grass the chance.
The next opportunity to get rid of Root would not come until the 39th over when he drove at Shadab and offered a simple catch to Mohammad Hafeez at backward point.
When the dangerous Bairstow (32 off 31) had departed, however, caught at the wicket off Wahab, Safaraz had kept the slip in place and added a short-leg for Morgan, who joined Root. But when Joss Butler, who came to the crease at 118 for 4 in the 22nd over after Hafeez had bowled Morgan and Stokes had offered Safaraz his second catch, the Pakistani skipper continuously opted to leave the slips cordon unpeopled and keep his fieldsmen in defensive positions.
Scoreboard pressure, he seemed to feel, would be enough. What followed proved him right.
Together Buttler (1×6, 9×4) and Root (1×6, 10×4) steadily whittled away at the huge total but Safaraz, ringing in the bowling changes expertly and tinkering constantly with the field, never allowed them to accelerate to the runaway-train pace of which England are known to be capable.
The Pakistani captain kept believing and encouraging his fieldsmen to believe in the efficacy of scoreboard pressure.
Wahab Riaz raced after a ball that looked to be a certain four and flung himself head first to pull it back and save a single run. Fakhar Zaman sprinted 30 yards to fling himself despairingly at a lofted drive. In vain.
Suddenly, success. With the partnership worth 130 and five balls left in the second powerplay, Shadab claimed Root (107 off 104) off a loose drive at 248 for 5. Five overs and 40 runs later, Amir had Buttler (103 off 76) caught by the ubiquitous Wahab.
The equation was then 61 required off 33 balls.
When Shadab found the edge of the struggling Mooen Ali’s bat and Safaraz dropped the chance and failed to stump him off the same ball, it looked as though Pakistan’s ship might have sailed. But the redoubtable Wahab intervened again to claim both Mooen (19 off 20) and Woakes (21 off 14).
Theoretically, the remaining 29 off three overs was possible. Another Wahab intervention to catch Archer off Amir at 322 for 9 forced the reality of defeat on the crestfallen English supporters.
And set off a veritable conflagration among their Pakistani counterparts, who were neither outnumbered nor outshouted in the course of this splendidly memorable early June day.
It had begun with Pakistan’s openers racing away at a rate of almost seven per over despite the attempts of pacers Jofra Archer and Chris Woakes to replicate Friday’s ruthless demolition carried out by the West Indies. The pair of Fakhar Zaman (36 off 40) and Imam-ul-Haq (44 off 58) not only weathered the English storm but got to 82 off 14 overs before being separated.
After that, Babar Azam (63 off 66), Hafeez (84 off 62) and Safaraz (55 off 44) all made solid contributions to see the underdogs set their eventually unreachable target.
Jason Holder’s West Indians will empathise. Like Safaraz’s men, they know what it is like to be called inconsistent, to be called mercurial, to be called unpredictable, to be called sometimish.
They would not give a fig about these negative names, we can all be certain, if at the end of their Friday 14 June game against England, they too have earned themselves the tag of winners.