Despite a spirited performance from the Pakistan bowlers, England won the final with an over to spare to lift the T20 World Cup for a second time. The win can be attributed to skills – and tactics, as Abhishek Mukherjee explains.
Getting the first thing done
Pakistan did not have a single bowler who conceded over 7.50 an over in this World Cup. Some teams might not have wanted to chase against an attack after winning the toss, especially if their openers had been the only ones to reach as much as 60 runs in this tournament.
But England is no ordinary side. They bat until 11, which meant that as long as they could restrict Pakistan to a par score, they could continue to hit even if the Pakistan bowlers took out a wicket or three, and chase down the target.
A difference in powerplays
In the first semi-final, New Zealand had made 38-2 after the powerplay and 59-3 after 10 overs. In the second, India had 38-1 and 62-2. They batted really well in the second halves of their innings, but their early conservative approaches had prevented them from getting anything beyond a par score.
Barring a few attempts at slogging, Pakistan never attempted to break the shackles. Their attempts – 39-1 after powerplay, 68-2 at the halfway stage – virtually mirrored the attempts by New Zealand and India. True, Mohammad Haris demonstrated a willingness to take risks, but when he fell, Pakistan were 45-2 after 7.1 overs.
Yet, they sent Shan Masood, their third ‘anchor’, who strikes at barely over 120 in Twenty20, and followed him with Iftikhar Ahmed. Shadab Khan, who scored at 169 in the tournament, did not emerge until the 13th over.
One may argue that it was the collapse later in the innings that prevented Pakistan from getting to 150, and that 150 might have been enough, particularly if Shaheen Shah Afridi had been fit for his entire spell. But then, England barely needed the might of Liam Livingstone, and had the batting depth to be able to accelerate sooner in their innings.
Contrast this with the effort of England. The Pakistan pacers bowled brilliantly with the new ball. In the first over, Shaheen took out Alex Hales, rooted to the crease, with a scorcher. But that did not prevent England from keeping on hitting. They lost three wickets inside the powerplay, but at the end of it, they needed 89 in 84 balls with batting firepower until the end. They were always going to win from there.
The value of defensive bowling
England did take eight wickets in the match, but only four of them in the first 16 overs. Only two of Pakistan’s wickets came when they did not attempt a slog (or, in Babar’s case, a cut against turn). The fast bowlers found swing early on, but since then, Sam Curran, Adil Rashid, Chris Jordan & co. thrived in taking the pace off the ball.
In the entire innings, the England bowlers conceded eight fours (six fewer than their Pakistan counterparts) and two sixes (the sides were matched here). As long as they did not concede boundaries, the England bowlers were happy to let the Pakistan batters place the ball into gaps and pick up singles.
They did not go flat out in pursuit of wickets. Instead, on the massive Melbourne Cricket Ground, they cut down the boundaries, eventually forcing the Pakistani batters to attempt to clear the ground – and perish. In fact, so slow were the English bowlers that none of the catches in the ‘deep’ went even remotely close to the boundary line.
England are not a first in this. With the possible exception of Australia in 2021, each world champion unit since 2012 has backed a defensive bowling attack en route to win.
Five balls of Iftikhar
There is little one can do if almost two overs of the spearhead’s quota are taken away. Someone had to complete that over – and bowl another – and Naseem Shah and Shadab Khan had both bowled out.
England needed 41 in 29 balls at that point. They needed one onslaught to flip that run-and-ball difference. Pakistan’s best bet probably lay in forcing them to delay that onslaught and hope they lost a couple of wickets.
One can understand why they backed Iftikhar (five balls per match, four wickets in career) ahead of Mohammad Nawaz (19 balls a match, 47 wickets in 55 T20Is): Ben Stokes and Moeen Ali, the not out batters, were both left-handers.
But this was not an instance where a bowler had to sneak in one or two balls. Five balls are almost an over, and about a fifth of the 29 balls that remained. Pakistan needed wickets at that point, or at least push England as far back as possible.
For that, Mohammad Wasim – a bona-fide pace-bowling all-rounder – was their best option. That would have restricted Wasim’s spell to 3.5 overs, but that one ball would not have mattered in the end.
As things turned out, they did not.
Use of reserve bowlers
Since the start of 2021, Chris Woakes has played 24 Twenty20 matches – but has bowled only 90 balls at the death, while going 10.80 an over. He is not a ‘death-over expert’, someone at their best when the batters adopt the end-of-innings no-holds-barred approach. Ben Stokes is not a regular Twenty20 cricketer anymore.
England had done well to restrict Pakistan to 68-2 in 10 overs. At the crease were Babar and Shan, neither reputed for cutting loose. England needed to get three overs out of Stokes, Woakes, or someone else. They turned to Liam Livingstone, who had eaten into an over from Woakes in the semi-final with his accurate bowling, presumably to bowl off-breaks to Shan and leg-breaks to Babar.
It backfired (Livingstone went for 16), but England used up one of their ‘weak’ overs against two defensive batters. They now had only two to bowl, and Stokes bowled both.
Pakistan, on the other hand, did not try anything like that, not immediately after the powerplay when England had lost three wickets, not even when Shaheen left the field and Moeen was new to the crease. The latter was perhaps a more opportune moment to get an over out of the way – but perhaps they counted on Shaheen to return.
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