Pak vs Eng T20 WC final


Babar Azam’s T20I side has always taken its fans on a ride, but the pain that lies at the end is beginning to feel familiar. Much like Pakistan’s agonising defeat in last year’s T20I World Cup semi-final and the Asia Cup final in September, Pakistan fell short of silverware in the T20 World Cup final in Melbourne, succumbing to a five-wicket defeat against England.

Babar denied that Pakistan felt the pressure of the occasion, but acknowledged the repeated failure to sign off T20 campaigns in style had soured the mood.

“It hurts when you can’t finish it off in a final, of course,” he said. “We’re very proud to play for Pakistan and make the final. But it hurts when you can’t finish it off. We couldn’t finish it off in the Asia Cup either, and that does sting.

“This was a stressful week because we didn’t know we were in or out. But the way we grabbed our opportunity and played our best cricket in four matches in a row, our team deserves credit.”

After losing the toss and finding themselves inserted in to bat, Pakistan were already flying in the face of history: just one of the previous six T20 World Cup finals have seen a side successfully defend a score. But after a stodgy start with Mohammad Rizwan and Mohammad Haris dismissed cheaply, Pakistan had engineered themselves into a decent position by the 11th over. Shan Masood had just taken 16 runs off Liam Livingstone’s only over, and at that stage, Pakistan were 84 for 2, set up for a big finish.

What transpired over the next eight balls, though, wrenched the game away from Pakistan, with England picking up two wickets for just one run. Babar pointed to that passage of play as a sliding doors moment for his side.

“The ball was seaming early on,” he said. “We wanted to get 45-50 runs in the powerplay but we lost a few wickets. In 11 overs, we were around 85 [84], but the back-to-back wickets that fell in the middle order meant we lost momentum. Especially after Shadab and Shan’s partnership ending with both getting out soon after each other like they did.

“Our middle-order dot-ball ratio was a bit too high because we were in a different situation, trying to build a partnership. We couldn’t do that, and whenever a wicket falls, it takes the new batter 2-3 balls to settle down. That put us on the back foot as a batting unit because we couldn’t finish as we wanted.”

The idea of Babar’s presence at the press conference following the final seemed preposterous a week ago, when Pakistan needed to rely on the Netherlands beating South Africa and win their final three games to make the semifinals. That became necessary after Pakistan opened their campaign with defeats against India and Zimbabwe, and given how bleak the outlook appeared at the time, the Pakistan captain was keen to highlight the positives.

“We didn’t expect to go through after our start. But the way the team came back and the way we grabbed our opportunity makes me proud. The way the middle order stepped up after Rizwan and I were struggling made me very happy. They won us matches, and put in individual performances like Iftikhar’s Shadab’s and Nawaz. The bowling dominated all tournament, too.”

Babar – “The way we fought back and took the game to the final over, you’re left to wonder. Maybe if Shaheen had bowled, things might have been different”•AFP/Getty Images

Defending a low total, Pakistan needed everything to go their way in the field. That, emphatically didn’t happen when, having put England under pressure with five overs to go, Shaheen Shah Afridi pulled up after bowling one ball of his third over. At that stage, England still needed 41 to win off 29, having scored just 20 in the last 31 balls.

The picture seemed to change dramatically immediately afterwards. As if a weight had been lifted off his shoulders, Ben Stokes, who had struggled for fluency all innings, smashed a four and a six off the final two balls off the over. A total of 26 came off the eight balls from the first boundary onwards, and Pakistan’s challenge was swiftly extinguished.

“The way we fought back and took the game to the final over, you’re left to wonder. Maybe if Shaheen had bowled, things might have been different,” Babar said. “But credit to England’s bowling. We were trying to build a partnership, but losing back to back wickets puts pressure on you. That pressure remains on you till the 20th over. We were 20 runs or so short with the bat, even though we came back with the ball. After Shaheen’s injury, the game shifted to England’s side.

“I’m not disappointed with the middle order. It’s a team game. We win and lose as a team. We just couldn’t finish well after what we had in the first 11 overs. We should have posted around 150, and we made mistakes in not getting there.”

In the end, however, gratitude was the overwhelming emotion for the Pakistani skipper after a campaign that caught fire just when it looked like it was petering out.

“I’d like to thank the crowd, both in Australia and Pakistan. Wherever we’ve played, the venues have been packed, supporting us and enjoying the cricket.”

Danyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Danny61000

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