Pakistan have always managed to get under England’s skin, even when the form book has pointed its thermometer towards a sickly no contest. From the Gatting tour of ’87 to the Cardiff caning of 2017 in the Champions Trophy semi-final, the Cornered Tigers have generally found a way to inflict wounds on the Three Lions.
Monday was a rare bad day for Eoin Morgan’s would-be world beaters. Remember, England are under pressure to deliver a big one-day tournament win, having come second almost as many times as Jurgen Klopp. That moment will be something they must win the hard way. There were some early signs that more work needs to be done.
Remember, Pakistan had lost their past 11 one-day matches before yesterday, including four on the trot against England. They had also been scuttled by the West Indies at the same venue just a few days ago. By the time many of their supporters got in to the ground for that game, most of their batsmen had been dismissed. Complacency was the biggest danger for the tournament favourites.
“We’ll be preparing as best we can for their A game,” Morgan said before the game. It looked like England had prepared their F game. Jason Roy who had one of those days where his mind not only wanders but leaves the stadium and Chris Woakes played the straight man to no effect. This was colourless cricket played in England’s horrible retro pyjama kit.
England looked spooked. West Indies devastated the same opposition with a short barrage. Woakes would not have frightened Geoff Boycott’s grandmother, despite clocking up the odd quick delivery, as England gurned their way through the day, defeated yet again by the much smarter cricket team. Slower balls employed cleverly by Wahab Riaz and Mohammad Amir bamboozled the stroke-makers at the death. Can this home team still only play one way? That is the question that might disturb Morgan.
Woakes and Jofra Archer went for 150 in their combined 20 overs. Pakistan opened the bowling with a leg-spinner just as South Africa had done. It worked again to disrupt Bairstow and Roy’s happy hit zone. When Jos Buttler came in the force was with them, but when both he and Root perished just after reaching their centuries, it felt like Ravi Bopara and Morgan’s nearly man duet in the Champions Trophy final of 2013
Of course, there are some mitigating circumstances. It is the second match of nine and it makes sense to have a bit of a dip early. Anybody who has witnessed the Cricket World Cup knows that the tournament format leaves a big margin for error. If England progress as expected, there is much evidence to suggest that the big support behind Pakistan or India can unsettle them.
The finishers didn’t finish. The fielders didn’t field. There is a long way to go, but this was a wobble alright from a team desperate to prove they can handle the pressure beyond a five-match series thrash-about.