A steady procession of Pakistani fans nearly filled the Melbourne Cricket Ground. There were England supporters too but they were lost in a sea of green that spread across the stands. Yet, Jos Buttler’s men felt at home. And as a Sunday night waned, England seized the ICC Twenty20 World Cup, winning the summit clash by five wickets.
The final was seemingly heading England’s way once Pakistan’s diffident batters mustered 137 for eight. However, the fast bowlers from the stables that produced Imran Khan, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis, prised out early wickets. A contest of small margins began to take shape but Buttler’s men, conscious of the DLS par score linked to the rain-threat, kept hustling the runs. Barring the odd feathery drizzle, the weather gods were kind and with Ben Stokes (52 n.o.) showing the way, England finished with 138 for five in 19 overs.
It wasn’t easy though as England suffered a jolt in the first over. Shaheen Afridi darted one back and castled Alex Hales. The pressure marginally dissipated in the second over as Buttler clipped fours off Naseem Shah and Phil Salt inner-edged past fine-leg. However, Salt hit Haris Rauf straight to short midwicket and Stokes walked in and witnessed Buttler scoop a six off Shah.
Rauf then scalped Buttler with the catch flying into Mohammad Rizwan’s gloves. Stokes and Harry Brook soldiered on while the Pakistan attack hovered between hostility and the expansive wide. Stokes and Brook added 39 runs for the fourth-wicket before the last-named failed to get past Afridi at long-off and spinner Shadab Khan struck.
But Stokes remained undiminished. He kept muscling his runs and with Moeen Ali for company, waded in to a Mohammad Wasim over. By then Afridi had limped away and Stokes was still there when the winning runs were clipped.
Earlier, Buttler won the toss and elected to field and nerves were evident as Stokes bowled a no-ball, a wide, peddled two free-hits while Rizwan and Babar Azam were finding their feet. In the fourth over, the stands erupted as Rizwan picked a six off Chris Woakes but when Sam Curran (three for 12) steamed in, the opener dragged a ball onto his stumps.
Just as captain Babar eased his gears, Mohammad Haris heaved a few without connecting. He flicked Woakes once but when leg-spinner Adil Rashid stepped in, the batter lofted straight to Stokes. With Shan Masood giving him company, Babar then nudged Pakistan to 68 for two in 10 overs.
Southpaw Masood launched into spinner Liam Livingstone with a four and a six but against the run of play, Babar got dismissed. Shaping to punch Rashid towards the off-side, the Pakistani skipper got cramped for space and tapped a catch back to a diving bowler. Pakistan’s woes continued as Iftikhar Ahmed fatally edged Stokes.
The run rate was sluggish and while Masood and Shadab hit the odd four, more impetus was needed. The duo left with their attempted shots finding waiting palms and Pakistan finished with a score that needed its speedsters to do all the hard work. They tried but England remained invincible.