England are kings of the white-ball game as their men’s side became the first to combine the T20 and ODI crowns after overcoming Pakistan and some of the more mesmerizing fast-bowling the great MCG has witnessed.
Ben Stokes (52no off 49) once again put England on his shoulders to lead his team to an uplifting victory with an over to spare on a lively surface in Melbourne where the promised surge of rain, for once in the city’s miserable recent run with the weather gods, never arrived.
Pakistan’s hopes of defending their modest 8-137 appeared possible after their enchanting pace triumvirate snared three wickets inside the Powerplay including star man and captain Jos Buttler for 26 off 17 balls.
Yet a knee injury suffered by Shaheen Shah Afridi when he took a catch on the boundary off Harry Brook was a dagger to the side overwhelmingly favored by the more than 80,000 fans who created a sea of green at one of cricket’s most iconic venues.
While Stokes was the hero, the five-wicket win that sealed England’s second men’s T20 title was built on the back of a suffocating bowling performance led by crafty quick Sam Curran (3-12 from four overs) and leg-spinner Adil Rashid (2 -22 from four).
England are now the reigning world champions in both limited-overs formats, having won the most recent ODI World Cup in 2019 when Stokes of course was the chief protagonist.
It is a further endorsement for the white-ball revolution that commenced in the aftermath of England’s ODI World Cup failure on these shores back in 2015 when their conservative approach with the bat and reliance on longer-form players was exposed in an embarrassing group-stage exit.
Eoin Morgan, the captain who oversaw the turnaround and remade England’s sides in his image before retiring earlier this year, will have been looking on with pride from his spot in the television commentary box.
Sunday’s contest came to life early in the run-chase as Pakistan’s clique of spirited quicks turned up the dial and aggressively went after England’s vaunted top-order in favorable bowling conditions.
Afridi’s status as the first-over king was enhanced with Alex Hales the latest victim to his brutal brand of vicious in-swing, before Haris Rauf (2-23 from four) knocked over Phil Salt and Buttler.
Naseem Shah, the youngest member of the spellbinding trio, could not believe he too did not make an early breakthrough during an over of high-skill and speed in which he went past Buttler’s outside edge five times.
That the other (legal) delivery was a daring Buttler ramp for six over fine-leg underlined the attacking approach England were intent on pursuing, as they took 49 runs from the Powerplay despite losing their entire top three in that period.
Stokes suffered a nasty knock to the arm off Mohammad Wasim Jr. and survived a number of near misses with skittish running between the wickets nearly seeing him caught short in mix-ups with both Brook (20 off 23) and Moeen Ali (19 off 12 ).
Yet the left-hander broke the game open when Shaheen unsuccessfully attempted to return to the bowling crease after his injury. He took 13 off the next five balls from Shaheen’s replacement, Iftikhar Ahmed, before accelerating through the remaining overs.
It was the kind of nous England fans have seen before, vindicating Australian coach Matthew Mott’s insistence he play a major role at this tournament despite middling returns in T20 Is leading into it.
Mott, who only took over as coach earlier this year when England split the white-ball and Test jobs, now has two World Cup wins in a single calendar year having led the Australian women to an ODI title in New Zealand in April.
The outback Queensland-born former batter was also the successful coach when the Aussies won the most recent women’s T20 title at the MCG in 2020.
Inserted by Buttler who wanted to chase due to the prospect of inclement weather, Pakistan floundered against an attack neutered by the absence of enforcer Mark Wood.
Discipline and economy, as opposed to the kind of brute force relied on by their counterparts, were the watch words then for England’s bowlers who curtailed every fresh attempt at aggression with changes of pace and banging the ball into a pitch clearly affected by Melbourne’s deluge of rain over recent weeks.
Rashid bowled slower than he has all tournament and confounded the Pakistan top order, striking on his first ball with the scalp of wonderkid Mohammad Haris before undoing skipper Babar Azam (32 off 28) with a googly.
Shan Masood (38 off 28) finally injected some energy into his side’s innings with a 16-run over off Liam Livingstone straight after the halfway drinks break but, shortly after a Chris Jordan bumper clattered into his helmet, joined the procession of Pakistanis caught on the long northern square boundary.
A half-hearted start from gun openers Babar and Mohammad Rizwan (15 off 14) in which they failed to take advantage of the Powerplay – including wayward first-over offerings from Stokes who bowled a no-ball and a wide to start the match – proved decisive.
Shadab Khan (20 off 14) did his best to lift the rate but late wickets from Curran and Jordan ensured their total remained only modest, with Pakistan left to rue managing only 6-53 from their final nine overs.
Men’s T20 World Cup 2022
Semi-final 1: Pakistan beat New Zealand by seven wickets
Semi-final 2: England beat India by 10 wickets