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England's Men Victorious at the T20 World Cup

On Sunday 13th November, England’s white-ball cricketers took an inspired victory over a talented Pakistani team to claim the T20 Men’s World Cup in Melbourne. With Pakistan batting first and setting 137 for the loss of 8 wickets, England initially fell to 45-3. However, test captain Ben Stokes came in at four and steered them home, losing only two further wickets and hitting the winning runs himself with an over to spare.

The World Cup began on October 16th in Victoria, with matches being played across the country, from Perth to Sydney. England had gotten off to a shaky start; although they were able to comfortably see off Afghanistan in their first match, they subsequently had a shock loss to Ireland by 5 runs after rain stopped play.

Their final group games however were impressive. They beat New Zealand and edged past Sri Lanka to set up a tense semi-final with favourites India. Despite the opposition posting an impressive 168 for 6, England set a record stand for a world cup of 170 for the loss of no wicket to cruise into the final.

Not all believed that the Three Lions could carry quite that level of momentum into the final. As promising as the win in the semi-final was, a win wasn’t guaranteed due to their up-and-down form throughout the tournament. Pakistan’s world cup journey had been equally as unpredictable, with a surprising loss to Zimbabwe which was as much a surprise as the loss of England to Ireland. However, their victory over favourites South Africa was highly impressive, and when the Proteas suffered a shock defeat to the lowest-ranked side of the Netherlands, Pakistan progressed at their expense. This teed up a thrilling semi-final in which they saw off New Zealand with just under an over to spare with one less wicket lost.

Pakistan batted first. The opening partnership of captain Babar Azam and wicket-keeper Mohammed Rizwan had provided Pakistan with stability throughout the tournament, allowing them to set commanding leads or make a strong start to a run-chase. The two began well, with Rizwan hitting a huge, authority-stamping 6 at the start of the fourth over. However, just a few balls later Sam Curran broke the partnership with a full ball which the batsman edged into the stumps.

Adil Rashid took the ball for the eighth over and the reward was immediate, forcing Haris to play a sweeping stroke down the ground that came up just too short, and Ben Stokes was well placed underneath it. Rashid also halted the advance of Pakistan’s captain by bowling and catching Babar himself at the start of the twelfth over.

Having struggled at 84-4, Shan Masood and Shadab Khan dug in for a much-needed stand of 37 before the former was caught in deep mid-wicket. After that, Pakistan’s luck ran out as four wickets fell for only 10 runs. When 120 balls had been bowled Pakistan had set England 138 to win.

Captain Jos Buttler and recently-recalled Alex Hales started strongly, but Shaheen Afridi, with the final ball of the first over, masterfully bowled Hales, ensuring there would not be a repeat of England’s semi-final stand. Buttler however wasn’t phased, putting on 26 runs in 16 deliveries to ensure England stood above their required run-rate before he edged the ball to Rizwan.

Stokes and Harry Brook added forty runs before the latter fell, and from then the fours and sixes from Stokes and Moeen Ali kept coming, the crack of the ball on their bats ringing through the MCG Stadium. When Ali was bowled by a full straight ball, England needed only 6 from 11 balls, and with Stokes still at the crease, it became a question of when rather than if.

Stokes earned the praise heaped on him with a controlled innings which gave him his first T20 half-century. For all watching, his trademark, roared celebration brought to mind his equally important innings in England's ODI World Cup final win at Lord’s in 2019. Here however, without the home advantage at a historically bogey ground for his side, his innings was just as key, albeit briefer.

In T20 cricket particularly, a batter’s strike rate is crucial. At times, the numbers looked tight, with the wicket of Brook leaving England needing 54 runs from 45 balls. The daunting nature of the challenge was a testimony to Stokes’ controlled batting under pressure. Ali also deserves a mention for putting on a stand of 48 for the fifth wicket, helping Stokes grow the England advantage.

Much of the groundwork for the win was laid by England’s bowlers, particularly Curran and Rashid. Curran was named the overall player of the tournament as his combination of yorkers — balls bowled right under the batsman’s feet — and bouncers undid the Pakistani top order. Rashid took 2-22, ensuring the highest score by a Pakistani batsman in the final was just 38.

Nevertheless, much of Pakistan’s strength lies in their bowling attack, and England’s stroke of luck had to come at Pakistan’s expense. The aforementioned wicket of Brook was taken deep in long-off by Afridi who, standing at 6ft 6, made his test debut at 18 four years ago. Now 22, he had been Pakistan’s leading wicket-taker throughout the tournament and had some of the best figures across the board. However, catching Brook out left Shaheen injured and unable to bowl any further overs. Pakistan were left reduced in strength, and although Naseem Shah and Haris Rauf impressed for the rest of the innings, England’s batsmen capitalised on the setback.

After slightly-rushed preparations, with key team players out due to injury or poor form and last minute additions to rectify the above,

Now the ticker-tape has been swept away, England can begin to look to the future. Curran, at his first world cup, led the bowling attack and at just 24, hints at future potential as a team leader. With Rashid and Ali reaching the end of their careers, England will need to find new spin talent to nurture into the white-ball side. The coaching staff and team must also be careful not to cling onto or depend too heavily upon long-standing members such as Stokes, Buttler, Jordan and Woakes. The former’s retirement from ODI cricket signals his acknowledgement that as Test captain, his full attention must be elsewhere. For now however, the side shows great promise. As captain Buttler did an excellent job to get the team where they needed to be as the opponents grew tougher after a tricky opening few games.

England now holds both the ODI and T20 world championships simultaneously, something no men’s team had done before; only England’s women had achieved the feat over a decade ago. Having made at least the semi-finals in all four previous T20 and ODI finals — winning two and runners-up in one other — England stand as the almost undisputed world leaders at white-ball, limited-over cricket. Despite a tricky start to their current series against Australia, they will need to assert themselves strongly in upcoming ODI matches to make this concrete.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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