Match Preview – England vs Pakistan, ICC Men’s T20 World Cup 2022/23, Final
Qudrat ka nizam.
Then, as now, Pakistan’s World Cup campaign has been a riot of last-ditchism, with as many incongruous plot twists as a tired old movie franchise – one that’s battling to stay relevant in a fast-evolving world, but one that also knows its audience, and knows that nothing puts bums on seats more readily than a warm and familiar nostalgic bath.
At the mid-point of the group stages, they were the most timorous team in the competition, stacking up the dot-balls and failing to find the boundary – a situation best exemplified by their careless rain-rules loss to Ireland, when a surfeit of good manners with the weather closing in cost them the chance to get ahead of the DLS par score.
You can quibble with how such intangibles are measured, but you cannot deny the extent to which this generation of England players has dictated the pace of white-ball cricket since 2015. The team has reached at least the semi-finals in all four global competitions since that fateful winter, and though the personnel has evolved to a degree – including this year’s retirement of Eoin Morgan – six members of the side that played in the 2016 World T20 final in Kolkata are likely to front up in Melbourne on Sunday (seven if both Chris Jordan and David Willey get the call).
The point is, England have been here before, and have the advantage of having lived every imaginable emotion on their previous visits to the big time – not least Buttler, whose run-out of Martin Guptill at Lord’s unleashed the very best of them on that unforgettable July day.
The danger for England is that to fail again at the final hurdle – so soon after falling short in the UAE last year – would be a bitter blow to that legacy, seven years of hegemony, and just the one (albeit significant) trophy to show for it.
“There’s no advice I can give to this man,” Morgan said. “I thought he captained his best-ever game today… so my messaging to anyone who’s asking is ‘they are just ready’.”
Pakistan, by contrast, don’t really do ‘ready’. But they might just be bang up for it. Because that, as they have endlessly and chaotically demonstrated, is sometimes all they’ve needed to prove it was in the stars all along.
Pakistan WWWWL (last five completed T20Is, most recent first)
In the spotlight
Pakistan (possible): 1 Babar Azam (capt), 2 Mohammad Rizwan, 3 Mohammad Haris, 4 Shan Masood, 5 Iftikhar Ahmed, 6 Mohammad Nawaz, 7 Shadab Khan, 8 Mohammad Wasim, 9 Naseem Shah, 10 Haris Rauf, 11 Shaheen Shah Afridi.
England (possible): 1 Jos Buttler (capt & wk), 2 Alex Hales, 3 Dawid Malan / Phil Salt, 4 Ben Stokes 5 Harry Brook, 6 Liam Livingstone, 7 Moeen Ali, 8 Sam Curran, 9 Chris Woakes, 10 Mark Wood / Chris Jordan / David Willey, 11 Adil Rashid.
Pitch and conditions
The pitch is likely to be another MCG 2.0 offering based on how it looked while uncovered 24 hours out – with Victoria’s damp early-season conditions enhancing the pace and bounce on offer to the seamers, in a significant improvement on the moribund drop-in offerings of years gone by. As Pakistan and India proved in their epic group-stage tussle, wickets in the powerplay are to be expected, and a target of 160-odd is likely to be challenging – even Ireland’s 157 proved sufficient to topple a ponderous England in their rain-affected clash at the venue. This strip does appear to have a little less grass, but there is still more coverage than what is normally seen in January in the BBL. The trouble is… that forecast is not encouraging. A reserve day on Monday has been factored in, with a start time of 5pm (4am GMT) to allow as much time as possible for a result. But the omens are not entirely promising.
Stats and trivia
- Pakistan and England have met twice before in the T20 World Cup, at The Oval in 2009 and in Bridgetown in 2010. England emerged victorious on both occasions – and on the latter occasion, they even went on to claim the title at the same venue.
- And yet, true to Pakistan’s reputation for taking the scenic route to glory, they themselves bounced back in 2009 to defeat Sri Lanka in the final at Lord’s.
- Ben Stokes needs 44 more runs to pass 3,000 in all T20 fixtures. Despite a vital 42 not out in his most recent innings against Sri Lanka, he is still awaiting his first half-century in the format.
- Shadab Khan needs three wickets to reach 100 in T20Is, and 44 runs to complete the 100/500 double. He will be playing in his 84th T20I.
- An England victory would give their coach, Matthew Mott, his second World Cup title of the year, after he helped guide Australia’s women to the 50-over crown in New Zealand in April.
“We’ve played against them a lot recently. But of course, in very different conditions. I think that’s probably the main factor. Even though we’ve played each other in quite a few games, here at Melbourne is going to be a different game to the series obviously in Pakistan. We know we’re up against an excellent team. That’s exactly what you expect in a World Cup final.”
England captain Jos Buttler expects a different challenge against Pakistan in Melbourne to the recent seven-match series in Pakistan.
“The England side is one of the best in the world. The series we played against them was very competitive. Hales and Buttler were outstanding yesterday, but we have one of the best pace attacks in cricket.”
Babar Azam, Pakistan’s captain, aims to fight fire with fire with his attack against England’s in-form openers.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket