Pakistan pulled off an incredible eight-wicket victory over hosts England in Cardiff to seal an unlikely spot in the Champions Trophy final.
After their miserable start to the tournament, which saw them completely outplayed in all aspects in a 124-run DL defeat to India, Pakistan seemed the most unlikely side to progress beyond the group stages. Not only have they done that, but the lowest-ranked side have reached their first-ever Champions Trophy final.
With India expected to beat Bangladesh in Thursday’s second semi-final, Pakistan have the chance to go full circle and beat the side that knocked them so badly in that opener. They stand a chance to win their first major trophy since they won the World Cup in 1992.
It brings a thoroughly anti-climactic end to England’s campaign, who were tipped to go all the way, after winning all of their group-stage games so convincingly. Losing the toss didn’t help their cause, but their batting was not up to its usual standard, and their fast bowlers were overwhelmingly exposed by Pakistan’s classy top order.
Jonny Bairstow came in for the out-of-form Jason Roy, and he justified his inclusion at the top of the order with an industrious 43. There were three promising partnerships at the top of the order, including Bairstow’s 46-run stand with Joe Root, and then Root’s 48 runs with Eoin Morgan, but that was as good as it got for the English. Hassan Ali took the wicket of Barstow, and he continued to power through.
The top score in the bottom six was Moeen Ali’s 11, while Ben Stokes faced 64 boundary-less balls for his 34. It was the lowest number of boundaries England had scored since the 2015 World Cup as they were bowled out for 211 with a ball to spare. Ali finished with 3-35, while Junaid Khan, in the absence of the injured Mohammad Amir, impressed with 2-42.
England’s fast-bowling stocks were arguably their area of weakness coming into this tournament, and it was ultimately exposed in this match. Leg-spinner Adil Rashid (1-54) showed good control under trying circumstances, but he didn’t get any support from his pacemen, with Jake Ball (1-37) the only paceman to take a wicket.
Take nothing away from Pakistan’s opening batsmen, who made a potentially tricky chase look simple. Fakhar Zaman, who only made his debut against the Proteas in the second group-stage game, was in excellent form once again, providing his side with that natural flair for attack that’s been missing for so long. He built up a 118-run stand with Azhar Ali, with Zaman providing 57 of those runs before he was stumped.
Ali continued to provide the platform that made it a near-impossible task for England with so few runs to defend. Another 55 runs were added with Babar Azam (38 not out), before Ali chopped one on to his stumps for 76.
That allowed Mohammad Hafeez to come in and smack the ball to all parts. With the pressure off, he saw his side over the line in front of the virtual home support, scoring 31 off 21 to hand his side the historic eight-wicket win.
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