England 337 for 9 (Stokes 84, Root 60, Bairstow 59, Rauf 3-64) beat Pakistan 244 (Salman 51, Willey 3-56) by 93 runs
England’s soon-to-be-deposed world champions bade farewell to the 2023 World Cup with a glimpse of their former domineering selves, as they marched to an emphatic 93-run win over Pakistan at Eden Gardens. Babar Azam’s men are officially out of semi-final contention.
England vs Pakistan could have been one of the matches of the World Cup, and surely would have been had either team lived up to their pre-tournament expectations. Instead, both slipped out of the sidedoor among the also-rans, even if England’s second victory in quick succession did confirm them a seventh-place finish in the group-stage standings, and a place at the 2025 Champions Trophy – the most pyrrhic of consolation prizes.
As for Pakistan, their despondent display began from the moment that Jos Buttler called correctly at the toss. With fourth-placed New Zealand streets ahead of them on net run-rate, their already slim chance of reaching the semi-finals had rested on putting a huge score on the board and routing England by 287 runs or more in response – which, to be fair, wasn’t totally outlandish given England’s experiences in the tournament so far.
Regardless of the subplots, it was unquestionably England’s most complete performance of the World Cup. At the ninth time of asking, they got their batting tempo just right on what soon proved to be a sluggish black-soil surface, with a trio of half-centuries from Bairstow, Joe Root and Stokes interspersed with a clutch of unfettered cameos – including an admittedly jammy 27 from 18 balls from Buttler – that suggested that they had finally stopped worrying and simply reverted to hitting the ball as hard and as often as possible.
Bairstow, to be fair, hadn’t strayed far from that formula all tournament, but, after an underwhelming haul of 156 runs at 19.50 in his previous eight innings, this time he allowed himself time to gauge the pace of the pitch before signalling the charge with five fours and a six in the space of 16 balls after just one run from his first 11.
His eventual 59 from 61 balls ended with a flat drive to cover off Haris Rauf, by which stage Malan, England’s most consistent performer in an underwhelming field, had already fallen on the reverse-sweep for 31. However, in taking England’s opening stand to 82 in the 14th over, the pair had at least spared Root a reacquaintance with the powerplay – a period of the game that, to judge by his 11 dismissals in 19 innings since the 2019 win, has seemingly had him spooked.
Root’s bafflingly poor tournament would conclude with his third half-century in nine innings, and an overall haul of 276 runs at 30.66 that disguised the extent to which his game went missing in the crunch moments of England’s campaign. Even so, his 60 from 72 balls was still a long way removed from the standards to which he aspires – once again his timing on his trademark scoop over the keeper was noticeably awry – and until Mohammad Wasim offered up back-to-back fours to give his strike-rate a massage late in his stay, he’d managed a solitary boundary in his first 38 balls.
Root did, however, have familiar and indomitable company to mitigate his tempo. For the second match running, Stokes turned in the sort of performance that had been expected of him on his return to ODI colours. His 84 from 76 balls provided the impetus in England’s telling third-wicket stand of 132, although it might have been a different story had Shaheen Shah Afridi clung onto a return catch after suckering Stokes with a well-disguised slower ball.
That moment could have sent Stokes on his way for 10 from 16 balls. Instead, it was the catalyst for an inevitable counterattack, as Afridi’s next ball was belted straight back over his head for four, followed by three more thrashes down the ground in his subsequent over.
The harder Stokes came, however, the more apparent it was that his troublesome left knee was on its last sinews. At one point, after a bludgeon through the line off Wasim, it visibly locked up in his followthrough, but Stokes’ response was to get even more inventive with his angles, including an extraordinary tumbling reverse-sweep for six over backward point off Agha Salman, a shot last seen in his Headingley 2019 miracle.
A second century in successive innings seemed to beckon as the range hits kept coming, until Afridi – back for the 40th over with the ball just beginning to reverse – landed a pinpoint first-ball yorker to pluck out his off stump. With Stokes booked in for surgery ahead of January’s Test tour of India, and given his prior absences from the ODI and T20I set-ups, that moment could well have marked the end of his involvement in England’s white-ball formats. It may not have been the glory he had envisaged after reversing his ODI retirement, but at least it was suitably removed from the ignominy that the team had embraced earlier in the campaign.
And with a platform finally set for the middle-order, there was a chance too for Buttler to end his campaign on a high – although, in keeping with his troubling loss of form, he wasn’t entirely able to capitalise. He did at least unfurl his reverse-sweep for the first time in the tournament – an extraordinary indictment of his flatlining confidence – but having nailed the first off Shadab, he scuffed the second through Wasim’s clutches at backward point, then survived a second chance in the same over as Rauf at long-on trod on the rope after clinging onto a miscued drive.
There was even time for Buttler to chop Wasim onto his own stumps without dislodging the bails, but just when it seemed the fates were feeling sorry for him, Rauf ran him out with a bullet shy from backward point, to draw a veil over an inglorious tournament haul of 138 runs at 15.33.
With Brook chipping in with a hard-hitting 30 from 17, Willey marked his retirement with a lusty cameo of 15 from five balls, then carried that feel-good factor into his opening burst. His second delivery curled into Abdullah Shafique’s front pad to trap him lbw for a duck, and he had two in ten balls when Fakhar Zaman – the hero of Pakistan’s rain-affected chase against New Zealand – smeared to Stokes at mid-off for 1.
Of Pakistan’s top-order, only Agha Salman, with 51 from 45, found a tempo remotely in keeping with the needs of a stiff chase, but Willey bagged him too in his second spell, caught at long-off for a satisfying 100th wicket. By then, the game was over as a contest, thanks to two other players who may well have just played their last ODIs. And if so, then Adil Rashid – England’s best player of a grim campaign – looks to have signed off with 199 wickets, after two more breakthroughs, including a sharp googly to bowl Saud Shakeel round his legs for 29.
England’s margin of victory would have been more emphatic but for a carefree tenth-wicket stand of 53 between Wasim and No.11 Rauf, who belted three sixes in his 23-ball 35. But by then, both teams’ thoughts had drifted away to the what-ifs.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket