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Willey and Stokes create a final flourish for England

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Pakistan 244 (Salman 51, Willey 3-56) defeated England 337 for 9 (Stokes 84, Root 60, Bairstow 59, Rauf 3-64) by a margin of 93 runs.

With a peek of their old dominant forms, England’s soon-to-be deposed global champions said farewell to the 2023 global Cup with a decisive 93-run victory over Pakistan at Eden Gardens. Babar Azam’s team is been officially eliminated from the semi-finals as a result of the outcome.

After Ben Stokes had established an intimidating total of 337 for 9 with his second forceful outing in as many games, David Willey marked the last appearance of his international career with a sparkling all-around performance that included his 100th and final ODI wicket. Meanwhile, Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid turned the screw on a spin-friendly surface to snuff out any pretense of a contest with four wickets between them.

If either team had up to their pre-tournament expectations, England vs. Pakistan would have been one of the World Cup’s most exciting matches. Rather, they both exited the sidelines as also-rans, despite the fact that England’s second straight win guaranteed them a seventh-place finish in the group stage standings and a spot in the 2025 Champions Trophy – the most pitiful of consolation prizes.

Pakistan’s dejected performance started as soon as Jos Buttler called the toss accurately. Their already remote hopes of making it to the semi-finals had hinged on them scoring a massive total and thrashing England by 287 runs or more in reply, which, to be fair, wasn’t entirely unrealistic considering England’s performance in the tournament thus far. Fourth-placed New Zealand was ahead of them on net run-rate.

It was another story when I was asked to bowl first. After Jonny Bairstow and Dawid Malan bludgeoned their way to 72 for 0 during the powerplay, which was England’s biggest score of the tournament, Pakistan had to accomplish that amount in three overs, and the demand grew tremendously with each extra run. With their final goal of 338, their challenge would be declared over after 6.4 overs of chase, during which time Willey’s 98th and 99th ODI wickets had reduced them to 30 for 2.

Pakistan had just one option after that: down. In a comical reenactment of his heroics against Sri Lanka earlier in the campaign, Mohammad Rizwan also unintentionally echoed past performances as he galloped down the pitch to Moeen and seized up with cramp while the ball gripped to bowl him through his gate. Babar Azam mishandled Gus Atkinson to midwicket to end his campaign as he had started it against the Netherlands.

Whatever the subplots, it was definitely England’s most comprehensive World Cup effort to date. When they batted at the ninth time of asking, they found the ideal pace on what quickly turned out to be a slow black-soil surface. Bairstow, Joe Root, and Stokes all scored half-centuries, while Buttler made an unrestricted cameo of 27 runs from 18 balls. It seemed as though they had finally given up worrying and had just gone back to hitting the ball as hard and as often as they could.

To be fair, Bairstow had not deviated from that formula during the tournament, but after scoring just one run from his first eleven balls and amassing 156 runs at 19.50 in his previous eight innings, this time he gave himself time to assess the pace of the pitch before initiating the charge with five fours and a six in the span of 16 balls.

After reaching his final score of 59 from 61 balls, he was dismissed by Haris Rauf with a flat drive. Malan, who had been the most reliable player for England in a disappointing pitch, had already been bowled out for 31 on the reverse-sweep. But at least the two had spared Root a reacquaintance with the powerplay, a phase of the game that, judging by his 11 dismissals in 19 innings since the 2019 victory, appears to have scared him. They had taken England’s opening stand to 82 in the 14th over.

With his third half-century in nine innings and an aggregate total of 276 runs at 30.66, Root’s bewilderingly bad tournament would come to an end, masking the degree to which his game faltered in England’s crucial moments of the campaign. The fact that he only managed a single boundary in his first 38 balls before Mohammad Wasim offered up back-to-back fours to boost his strike-rate late in his stay did not detract from the fact that his 60 from 72 balls was still far short of the standards to which he aspires.

Joe Root was bowled during that hit in his previous game, yet he was still thrilled to reverse scoop.
Joe Root was bowled during that hit in his previous game, yet he was still thrilled to reverse scoop.• Getty Images/AFP
But Root had dependable and amiable companions to slow down his pace. Stokes delivered the kind of performance that was anticipated of him upon his return to ODI colours for the second game in a row. England’s remarkable third-wicket stand of 132 was sparked by his 84 from 76 balls, but the outcome may have been different had Shaheen Shah Afridi held onto a return catch after tricking Stokes with a deceptively slower delivery.

Stokes might have been out for 10 from 16 balls at that point. Rather, it was the spark that ignited the inevitable response, as Afridi’s following ball was hammered straight back over his head for four, and in his next over, he added three more blows to the ground.

But the harder Stokes went, the more obvious it seemed that his problematic left knee was nearing its end of its sinews. Stokes’ response was to get even more creative with his angles, including an amazing tumbling reverse-sweep for six over backward point off Agha Salman, a shot last seen in his Headingley 2019 miracle. At one point, after a bludgeon through the line off Wasim, it visibly locked up in his followthrough.

As the long-range knocks continued to come in, it appeared as though a second century in the next innings would soon be reached. However, Afridi, returning for the 40th over with the ball starting to reverse, struck a precise first-ball yorker to remove his off stump. Given his previous absences from the ODI and T20I setups, Stokes’ surgery appointment prior to England’s Test trip of India in January may have signaled the end of his engagement in the white-ball formats for the national team. Even if he had decided to reverse his ODI retirement, it might not have been the grandeur he had anticipated, but at least the team’s previous embrace of humiliation was sufficiently avoided.

With the middle-order now having a platform, Buttler also had an opportunity to finish his campaign on a positive note, albeit he wasn’t fully able to take advantage given his concerning decline in form. At least he showed off his reverse-sweep for the first time during the tournament, which is a remarkable testament to his lack of confidence. However, after nailing the first off Shadab, he scuffed the second through Wasim’s grasp at backward point and then held out for another opportunity in the same over when Rauf trod on the rope at long-on after clinging onto a misplayed drive.

Even though it appeared like Wasim’s luck was running out, Rauf ran him out just short of backward point, concealing an embarrassing tournament total of 138 runs at 15.33. Buttler even had time to chop Wasim onto his own stumps without moving the bails.

Willey celebrated his retirement with a passionate cameo of 15 from five balls, and he took that feel-good element into his opening burst, with Brook chiming in with a hard-hitting 30 from 17. In the rain-affected chase against New Zealand, his second delivery looped into Abdullah Shafique’s front pad, trapping him lbw for a duck. He then had two in ten balls when Fakhar Zaman smeared to Stokes at mid-off for 1.

Willey claimed the wicket of Pakistan’s top-order batsman, Agha Salman, with 51 from 45, but he was also dismissed in his second over, caught at long off, for a well-deserved century. Thanks to two additional players who might have played their final ODIs, the game was already finished as a fight by that point. If that’s the case, Adil Rashid—England’s standout player throughout a dismal campaign—appears to have concluded his career with 199 wickets following two more breakthroughs, one of which was a clean ball that took Saud Shakeel around his legs for 29 runs.

Had it not been for a relaxed 53-ball tenth-wicket stand between Wasim and No. 11 Rauf, who hit three sixes in his 23-ball 35, England’s victory margin would have been even more notable. However, by that point, the hypothetical had become the focus of both teams’ minds.

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