The recent fortunes of the two teams who played at Trent Bridge on Monday could not have been more different. Pakistan had lost their last 11 completed ODIs. Four of those losses were to the England them they were facing in this match. An England team who passed 340 in each and every match in that series. This game was the second for Pakistan in this World Cup. The first game saw them bowled out for 105 against the West Indies on the same ground on which they would face the number one ranked England.
England, on the other hand, have been bossing ODI cricket for the last four years. They have set batting records aplenty, not least the highest ever ODI total made at this exact ground on this exact same strip last year when they scored 481/8 against Australia.
So, you could forgive England for feeling very confident, and for Pakistan fans for having a sense of real foreboding. The only real hope that could be held on to was that old cliché about never knowing which Pakistan will turn up. This is one of those tropes that is mostly lazy and more often than not completely wrong. Pakistan are good or bad as often as any other team based on their recent form. Mostly.
Then they score 348 against England and defend it to beat England in their own World Cup. This was the first time they have successfully defended a total against a top eight ranked team since the Champions Trophy final where they won the bloody thing having started off that tournament terribly. I guess you can just never tell which Pakistan team will turn up.
England, who are rightly favourites at this World Cup, started the tournament off with a crushing win over South Africa. England’s captain, Eoin Morgan was asked about the weight of expectation that his team were under and he said they were enjoying it. They certainly seemed to be in that match against the Proteas.
However, for the first time in a long time, the pressure seemed to get to England in this match against Pakistan. In the field they were sloppy. There were dropped catches, fumbled attempts to stop singles and overthrows to the boundary. The most telling was Jason Roy putting down a sitter off Mohammad Hafeez when he was on 14. He went on to make 84 off 62.
This was not the well drilled machine who have won far more than they have lost in recent times. If those chances had been held, if those runs had been prevented, perhaps England would have chased down this target. In the end they lost by just 15 runs.
It would have been a far bigger defeat for England but for two very different hundreds from England’s two Josephs – Joe Root and Jos Butter – who kept their side in this until the very end of this match. It actually says a lot about this England unit that even when the rate was over 12 an over you still thought they had a chance. And they did. With Chris Woakes hitting boundaries batting at eight they were in the mix. Two wickets in two balls from Wahab Riaz, a man who was not in the original Pakistan squad, ended the match very late on.
Runs for Root and Buttler in this match, runs for Stokes in the last game, wickets spread out amongst the bowlers. Things could be a lot worse, there are a lot of positives.
Perhaps the biggest of those positives, the one which is most telling for this England team going forward, is that when they were struggling badly in this game, with four wickets down in the 22nd over, they pushed it so close. When Stokes fell to leave England 118/4 they were 67 runs behind the Duckworth-Lewis-Stern target. 15 overs later the game was even again. They nearly did pull off a remarkable win. England not crumbling at a World Cup, even when they still lost, is quite remarkable when you consider how badly they have done at World Cups in the last 30 years or so.
Even with this loss there is no need for England to panic. They are still very well placed to get the five wins they need from their remaining seven matches to all but guarantee a semi-final spot. They will reassess things and come back stronger as they have so often in the last four years. They face Bangladesh on Saturday and will feel very confident of getting back to winning ways.
Having said that, Bangladesh are in better form of late than Pakistan, have just beaten South Africa themselves at this World Cup, and will be feeling very confident too. If England do manage to lose to them as well the narrative changes and we start talking about England stuffing up another World Cup, this time when they had every advantage going for them.