There was a moment in England’s final ODI against Pakistan, on a clear, bright spring afternoon in Yorkshire, that spoke to the sense of possibility and excitement that surrounds the team right now, a matter of days from the start of a home World Cup. When Jos Buttler stuck out a boot to block Sarfaraz Ahmed’s back-foot glide, and then in the same movement swept up the rebound and ran out the Pakistan captain as he stood on the brink of a century, it suggested even Dame Fortune might have developed a soft spot for England.
It was a moment of great skill, with a nod to that wiliest of stumpers MS Dhoni, as well as being, according to Buttler, “really lucky” – but then which successful team didn’t occasionally require the rub of the green? Australia may be the self-styled “lucky country”, while downbeat fatalism is more of an English vibe, but then the England of Buttler and captain Eoin Morgan is not quite the same as those that have gone before.
“It’s certainly the first time it has got someone out,” Buttler said of his footwork at Headingley. “Obviously Dhoni was one of the first guys I saw doing that kind of thing – watching batsmen shape up to play certain shots, trying to use your leg to stop it. I was just really lucky that it dropped next to the stumps and he’d set off for a run.”
That dismissal had been preceded by another run-out, in which Buttler’s role was to throw to the non-striker’s end, where Adil Rashid collected and swivelled to back-hand the ball unsighted on to the stumps. Far from showboating at the end of a series that England would win 4-0, this was just the sort of casual brilliance that occurs for a team when everything clicks – and a sign that their hopes of becoming the first from England to lift the World Cup will not be weighed down by doubt, expectation or a rather dismal history in the competition.
“I’m really excited by the buzz,” Buttler said, speaking at the premiere of OPPO’s TV advert to launch their global partnership with the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019. “There’s pressure and expectation but I think that’s to be embraced, we can use that as a positive for the team. We’re playing in our own conditions, it allows us to get away from the tournament when the pressure gets ramped up, we can escape to friends and family as well. It’s an amazing opportunity to be around at the right time and play in a home World Cup.
“It’s a lot of fun [playing for England], that’s one of the main things. The brand of cricket we’re trying to play and the way we’ve been trying to really express ourselves and push the boundaries of what we’re capable of, it breeds a lot of fun.
“The cricket we’re playing on the field has been really exciting to watch, and we’ve obviously had some success. The dressing room is a brilliant dressing room to be part of, a close bunch of guys, there’s a lot of fun, a lot of mickey-taking and it’s just a great environment to be in. It’s definitely the changing room I love being in the most, and I think that gets portrayed on the field.”
While England appear to revel in their current status as world No. 1 and a side repeatedly pushing at the boundaries of the 50-over game, they do not get too hung up on success, either. Team spirit, as Steve Archibald once put it, may be an illusion for the winners’ podium but there are tighter bonds in the England dressing room, where a generation of players have come of age together – Buttler became a father a month ago, while several of his team-mates, including Joe Root, Jason Roy and Chris Woakes, also have young children.
Like a highly specialised NCT group, this England squad, largely unchanged over the four years since the last World Cup, have been through a lot together. And while Buttler is a character who always seems to have been able to separate professional failure from personal fulfilment, the sight of him marking his audacious 50-ball hundred in the second ODI against Pakistan with a baby-rocking celebration for young Georgia Rose hinted at great freedom happily cohabiting with great responsibility; suggesting, perhaps, that England have brought balance to their undoubted force.
“It definitely puts things in perspective, which is always something I’ve really enjoyed about my cricket – trying to keep perspective on it, remember to enjoy it, it’s not the be all and end all,” Buttler said. “She certainly does that, it’s great to come home after a good or bad day and realise it doesn’t really matter that much.
“Another good thing about the side is there’s quite a few of us in the same boat at the minute, being new fathers, so it’s a topic of conversation around the dressing room … It’s been great fun, part of the journey of the side. A lot of us have spent a lot of time together and played a lot of cricket together as youngsters and now quite a few have young families, so it’s a nice feeling.
“I think the team has grown up together in the last few years, it’s very genuine that the guys enjoy each other’s success, enjoy each other’s company. We really do see that in the cricket, it does transform those relationships in the dressing room and off the field, into the performances on it.”
It will soon be time for England to be judged on those performances, and Buttler is confident that he and his team-mates can live up to the external hype and go on to lift that elusive trophy: “Yeah we can, we definitely can, but it’s down to us go and do it.” The World Cup is tantalisingly near but there is a week-long lacuna to fill with media obligations and squad announcements, warm-up fixtures and, probably, a few night-time nappy changes. Unsurprisingly, Buttler can’t wait to get going.
“It’s almost a feeling of you just want the tournament to start proper. We had four games against Pakistan, one washed out, two more warm-up games to come… We just want the first game to start. I think everyone’s ready, there’s been a lot of talk around the World Cup and the build-up. The date everyone’s really looking to now is that one against South Africa.”
Jos Buttler was speaking as Global Partner OPPO unveiled their ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 TV advert and launched the OPPO Reno Series. To view the new TV advert and to find out more info on the new Reno Series, visit https://twitter.com/oppo
Bhuvneshwar Kumar out for 2-3 matches with hamstring injury
In a big blow to India’s plans Bhuvneshwar Kumar has been ruled out of India’s next two or three World Cup matches due to a hamstring injury.
Playing against Pakistan on Sunday, Bhuvneshwar was forced to leave the field having bowled just 2.4 overs, after he suffered tightness in his left hamstring.
Indian captain Virat Kohli confirmed the injury took place after Bhuvneshwar stretched his hamstring off a foot mark during on the follow through. Although he described the injury as a “niggle” Kohli said Bhuvneshwar would not be available for selection for the matches against Afghanistan on June 22 and West Indies on June 27 and possibly the crunch clash against England on June 30.
“He has a slight niggle,” Kohli told the host broadcaster after the victory against Pakistan. “It was because of slipping on the foot marks. It doesn’t look too serious at the moment. We are going to give it some time. Hopefully he will be ready in a couple of games, if not max by three games from now.”
Bhuvneshwar, Kohli said, was confident of recovery soon and the team was not worried because there was a ready replacement in Mohammad Shami. “He himself feels that the niggle is not too bad. Just time (resting) will heal it. He is going to be a very important factor for us so he hopefully he can recover well in time. We have got Shami ready and raring to go so we are not too worried about where the situation stands.”
Bowling the fifth over of the Pakistan innings after India had ended on 336 for 5, Bhuvneshwar pulled up after bowling his 16th delivery, and left the field immediately. Vijay Shankar completed the over and, in fact, got India their first breakthrough with his very first delivery, trapping Imam-ul-Haq lbw.
Bhuvneshwar became the second Indian to pick up an injury during a match at the World Cup after opener Shikhar Dhawan suffered a hairline fracture to his left thumb during the game against Australia.
Samiuddin: Pakistan need to first figure out what their best XI actually is
Asif Ali made 51, 52, 17 and 22 and he made his way into Pakistan’s World Cup squad. These 142 runs came in four games against the top-ranked side in ODI cricket at their home. They came at a strike rate of 131.48.
Despite not having anyone with anywhere near that strike rate, he didn’t make the original World Cup squad. Once he made it, with runs and form behind him, Pakistan didn’t pick him for their opening tournament game against West Indies despite not having anyone else for a position which would otherwise be crucial to finishing off the big starts their top order was giving them.
In their second game against England they brought Asif Ali in and dropped Imad Wasim. Against England in the ODI series just before this game, Imad had taken six wickets and, in a very high-scoring series, conceded 6.37 runs per over. They also brought in Shoaib Malik who, at that time, was averaging 14 with the bat in England over his career. They wanted his experience and calm on the field. They dropped Haris Sohail who is considered by the Pakistan management to be the second-best batsman in the squad behind Babar Azam.
Then they took on Sri Lanka and, fortunately for their selection group, the game got rained off and they didn’t have to pick an XI.
Australia next, at Taunton, and the pitch looked green and friendly for fast bowlers. They brought in Shaheen Afridi to bolster their pace attack and dropped Shadab Khan. The latter is their best ODI player and absolutely essential to their bowling attack. They thought they’d be fine getting ten overs from Malik and Mohammad Hafeez. They went 11-0-86-1.
Shadab is also their best fielder, the one who sets the tone as much as he can in what is now the worst fielding side in the tournament. Pakistan dropped two catches – one as a direct result of Shadab not being where he would usually be – and were generally abysmal in the field.
Against India, Pakistan put Shadab back in the XI and also Imad, dropping Asif and Shaheen. They kept Malik in the side, despite his last three scores reading 4, 8 and 0. Experience, they reasoned, they needed his experience. He was out first ball.
Pakistan have made six changes over three games after their opening match. None of them have been injury induced. They have argued the reasons for each change, but whether they are tactical or strategic, it’s clear that they have little idea what their best XI is. Five games into this tournament.
Asked about the decision to drop a specialist bowler and batsman on Sunday, Sarfaraz Ahmed insisted it was the right move. “I think it was right. We were going with five bowlers and six batters. So I think our decision was right.” Similarly he had defended the decision to drop Shadab against Australia.
Imad, who’s been at the receiving end of these decisions, was suitably diplomatic when asked whether Pakistan knew what their best XI was. “I can’t give an answer to this. Only the captain and the coach can. Whatever XI we put on the field, the players try and do their best.”
That isn’t a surprise given that they weren’t all that sure about what their best XV for this World Cup should be. They picked Abid Ali on the basis of two innings in their provisional World Cup squad. Then, having allowed him just one game in the series just before this World Cup, they dropped him.
Mohammad Amir was always going to be a part of their plan, even if he wasn’t in the provisional squad but Wahab Riaz had not played an ODI in two years when he was suddenly pulled into the squad. He was nowhere on the scene or in their plans and yet here he is, one of their more successful players. Mohammad Hasnain, picked for his youth and pace, has not played a single game yet and is unlikely to until Pakistan are definitely out. There will be almost certainly be changes for the next game against South Africa too.
This is a tournament which they have been building up to for the best part of two years, for which they have actually had a very good run-in, for which they actually have a good, young core of players to work with.
“We need to win our next four matches now, we need to play well,” Imad said. “Other results are not in our hands but we need to win those four games.”
For that, they will need to first figure out what their best XI actually is.
Recent Match Report – India vs Pakistan, World Cup, 22nd match
India 336 for 5 (Rohit 140, Kohli 77, Rahul 57, Amir 3-47) beat Pakistan 212 for 6 (Fakhar 62, Kuldeep 2-32) by 89 runs by the DSL method
As it happened
Seven-nil. On its biggest stage, cricket’s most fraught rivalry really hasn’t lived up to its billing.
None of the six previous World Cup meetings between India and Pakistan produced anything approaching a tight finish, but most of them contained tense passages of play and moments of crackling electricity. Sunday at Old Trafford had none of that. There was plenty of quality cricket, but nearly all of it was from one side. The other side was a shadow, not just of what it had been in the past, but even of what it had been two weeks ago.
Pakistan barely showed up, and the contest turned into an uninterrupted celebration of Indian excellence.
Watch on Hotstar (India only) – Full highlights of the match
Rohit Sharma scored his second hundred in three games, a far breezier knock than his effort in a scrappy chase against South Africa, and at one stage he seemed set for a tilt at a fourth ODI double-hundred. KL Rahul, batting in his preferred position thanks to the enforced absence of Shikhar Dhawan, made a solid half-century in an opening stand of 136. Virat Kohli came to the crease, occupied it like a favourite bit of lawn furniture, and made 77 at comfortably over a run a ball without ever seeming to stretch himself.
These efforts set Pakistan a target of 337. This was a flat pitch, and India lost one of their two main fast bowlers, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, to hamstring stiffness after he had delivered just 1.4 overs, leaving the fifth and sixth bowlers 18.2 overs, rather than just 10, to handle. And yet, apart from a brief period during a 104-run second-wicket stand between Fakhar Zaman and Babar Azam, Pakistan never threatened to make a chase of it.
The Fakhar-Babar partnership only rarely hit high gear, partly because of the discipline from India’s bowlers – even Vijay Shankar and Hardik Pandya – and partly because Pakistan were looking to keep wickets in hand, perhaps with an eye on staying close to the DLS par score, given that rain had already caused a couple of brief interruptions.
A series of authoritative slog-sweeps from both batsmen brought Pakistan 26 runs from overs 21 to 23, one of them bringing up Fakhar’s half-century. At the 23-over mark, Pakistan were 113 for 1, 11 behind the DLS par score of 124 for 1.
That was as close as they got, as Kuldeep Yadav put India firmly on top once more with the wickets of both set batsmen. They didn’t arrive out of the blue; Kuldeep was consistently challenging the batsmen in the air and off the pitch, and he had already come close to having Fakhar stumped, ripping one across his bat face and causing him to overbalance.
The breakthrough arrived in the 24th over, courtesy a cocktail of drift, dip and turn. Drift drew Babar into playing at a wider line as Kuldeep floated one across him from left-arm over, opening a gap between bat and pad. Dip ensured the ball landed shorter than Babar wanted, causing him to push further out in front of his body than he would have wanted. Turn did the rest.
Dip forced Fakhar to top-edge a sweep in Kuldeep’s next over, and Pakistan were 126 for 3. When Pandya followed up in the next over with the back-to-back wickets of Mohammad Hafeez and the dreadfully out-of-sorts Shoaib Malik, the contest was all but over.
The game dragged on for a while longer, though, thanks to a 40-minute spell of rain that shaved 10 overs off the chase. When play resumed, Pakistan needed 130 in 30 balls, with four wickets in hand, in front of stands that had gone two-thirds empty. It was the tired and farcical end that this contest – hyped to absurd levels for months and painted in dangerously jingoistic shades – probably deserved.
The match was probably won and lost in its first ten overs, when Pakistan chose to bowl in overcast conditions and failed to make use of them. Unlike most of the grounds at this World Cup, Old Trafford has long straight boundaries and short square ones, and with the clouds massed overhead it was the one place at which to bowl a fuller length. Barring Mohammad Amir, none of Pakistan’s fast bowlers did this.
The quicks bowled nine of the first 10 overs for Pakistan, and of the 54 balls they sent down, 30 were pitched either short or short of a length, according to ESPNcricinfo’s data. Rohit and Rahul scored 35 off those 30 balls, with Rohit in especially punishing mood with his square-cut and his range of pulls. The other 24 balls, mostly from Amir, were pitched on a good length or fuller, and off those balls India only scored 13 runs.
In comparison, India’s seamers bowled 36 balls on the fuller lengths in their first Powerplay, conceding 18 runs, and 24 on the shorter lengths, conceding 17.
Rohit usually starts sedately in ODIs and beds in for the long haul, accelerating gradually through his innings. Pakistan’s freebies had allowed him to begin in much more of a hurry now. At the 10-over mark he was on 37 off 29 balls, and a drive to the cover point boundary off Shadab Khan in the 12th over brought up his fifty off 34 balls. It was his quickest in ODIs.
The pace of Rohit’s scoring allowed Rahul to play at his own pace at the other end, and ease into a role he hasn’t really played too much of in his ODI career so far. Having moved to 14 off 31 at the 10-over mark, he accelerated when the spinners came on, bringing out his sweep, square cut, and lofted hits with a full extension of the arms. In all, he scored 12 off 30 against the faster bowlers and 45 off 48 against the spinners.
When Rahul spooned Wahab Riaz to short cover in the 24th over, India had already laid the base for a massive total. Rohit and Kohli, masters of pressing home advantageous situations, did what they do best, putting on 104 runs of increasing inevitability in 19.1 overs. Rohit brought up his century – his third-quickest in ODIs – off 85 balls, off the last ball of the 30th over, and proceeded to add 40 more to his score off his next 27 balls. Another double-century seemed to be his for the taking, but right after he had hammered Hasan Ali for a typically Rohit boundary – a mighty pull over mid-on – he fell playing an entirely atypical shot, shuffling across and scooping to short fine leg.
India came into the World Cup with questions over their No. 4, but through the tournament they’ve found a solution by taking so long to lose their second wicket that they can promote Pandya. They did so again, and he clattered 26 off 19, but there wasn’t really a proper end-overs explosion to follow his dismissal, as Amir’s angle and changes of pace tied down India’s lower middle order. India only made 38 off their last five overs, but by then they already had more than enough.
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