The England Vs Pakistan match could have been one of the great spectacles of the World Cup. When the schedule came out, you would think this would be one of the crucial clashes. If not both sides, then one of them would be pushing for a place in the semi-finals. But today, England are out and realistically, Pakistan will struggle to get into the top-four by the end of the league stage.
Both sides were clearly playing for something different in the match. England is playing to secure a spot in the Champions Trophy 2025. Pakistan will still be hoping to get through the semi-finals. They have a nearly impossible task to achieve on Saturday, but it is also true that they are not mathematically out, and that small hope could give them some motivation to beat England.
When you look at both teams’ campaigns, you realise that they have had the same set of problems. Senior players from both the sides have not really stepped up in the tournament. Many of them have underperformed. England’s strength was, unquestionably, their batting. The power and depth of their middle order. But game after game, it underperformed. Likewise, Pakistan’s bowling was their strength. The frontline bowling attack of Pakistan has not delivered better results.
Shaheen has shown signs of brilliance but a lot more is expected of him because of the quality that he possesses. He has shone in games, but Pakistan attack has leaked runs, and a super skilled bowling line will want to get back to its very best in this game and will need to achieve a very unlikely chance of proceeding to the semi finals
Harris Rauf has had his moments too but has been a little expensive at times. At the same time, it should be kept in mind the times and moments he has come to bowl in an innings.
Speaking from England’s perspective, the Pakistan match is their final chance to finish in the top 8 and qualify for the Champions Trophy 2025. It will also be about the senior players whose place may not be safe after the tournament ends.
But the England management have shown a lot of loyalty to them throughout the tough tournament even while the side continued to struggle. These are the players who got England to the top spot in the past many years and the management too stuck to them despite losses, showing their faith. Some of these players will be concerned about their future. For some of the players, this World Cup is now a watershed moment. Some of them will feel that they are playing for a place on the side in the next cycle. The Pakistan match provides a game within a game for some of the individuals.
As far as the conditions are concerned at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata, it can offer some incredibly flat surfaces, speaking from experience of having played there. It is an iconic ground and one of the best in the world. England will have to get their balance right here. They have fluctuated with the side throughout and I understand that. But they have been confused with the combinations. Whether to go with three spinners or four seamers.
Against Netherlands, they went with two genuine spinners with Joe Root as the extra spin option. I don’t see them change their plans for Pakistan at Eden Gardens which is a big ground, and which does cover your extra spin option. I think of the 2016 T20 World Cup when Root opened the bowling over there on a couple of occasions and got early wickets. He played an IPL game there this year and bowled well. I see no reason why England would not go into this game with the same side.
Gus Atkinson came in and did well. I would like to see Brydon Carse get a game but don’t think England can afford to play him in this big game. Harry Brook must play. He did not get many runs in the last match, but he needs to be played consistently in the top order.
I feel Root and Bairstow would want to leave a mark in this final match for England in this World Cup. Not just to make their sides win but also for how things might look for them down the line. For me, Bairstow has been England’s best ODI opener of all time. But he has massively underperformed in this World Cup and his future will be of great concern to him.
It will be interesting to see how England go about changing the ODI side after the end of the World Cup. What is going to be though process behind the change? It is easy to get rid of senior players who have underperformed in a World Cup and forget that they can still be best players of this format in the next cycle. And because there are younger players coming in, it becomes easier to make radical changes. However, at the same time, there needs to be a discussion over which of these senior players can still win games for the team in the next cycle. I believe Bairstow can be that player. Also, in my opinion, Buttler should continue as captain if he feels the captaincy will not affect his ability to change games with the bat moving forward as it has in this World Cup. Runs and a win in this crucial game are important for the English side but also for one of the most destructive players the game has seen.
As far as Pakistan are concerned, I go back to my point that I made right at the start of the competition on Fakhar Zaman. He was not among runs, but Pakistan should have continued to play him in the early games of the tournament. I am not saying this in hindsight after he has got runs in the past two matches. I am saying this because his natural game is to attack. He is a destructive player. He is a game-changing player. I feel the Pakistan management made an error by not playing him enough in the early stages. That Fakhar Zaman knock vs New Zealand must have given them a lot of confidence as a side.
If there is any team in world cricket who are capable of the extra-ordinary, it is Pakistan. So, let’s not completely write them off. But if they are providing something extraordinary, I am looking at Shaheen, Haris, Hasan Ali and Mohammad Wasim Jr who must do their best to pull off an extraordinary. It is going to be a great watch. Watch for the mini battles within the bigger game.