Time up for England’s thirtysomething trailblazers following World Cup debacle

By Sports Desk November 11, 2023

England bowed out of the World Cup and ushered in the end of an era as their old stagers mustered one last victory over Pakistan.

The defending champions of 2019 were making their final stand in India, their timid departure from the tournament long confirmed and the break-up of a decorated team already in motion, but managed to sign off with a 93-run win at Kolkata’s Eden Gardens.

David Willey is the only member of the current squad to have formally announced his retirement – a direct consequence of being the only one without a central contract – but this is an old group, past its prime in the 50-over format and ripe for renewal.

That process will start on Sunday morning, when squads are announced for next month’s white-ball tour of the West Indies, but there was a final opportunity for this band of thirtysomething trailblazers to get over the line together and guarantee a spot in the 2025 Champions Trophy.

Ben Stokes took a familiar leading role in proceedings, following up his century against the Netherlands by top-scoring with 84 – a coincidental mirror image of his score in the World Cup final four years ago – with Joe Root making 60 in a final score 337 for nine.

Pakistan were 244 all out in reply, Willey writing his own farewell as figures of three for 56 left him with exactly 100 ODI wickets. The finishing touch was applied by Chris Woakes, who made Haris Rauf his 31st victim at World Cups, breaking Sir Ian Botham’s English record.

Stokes and Root have been standard bearers for this generation and they took the chance to put on 132 in what will probably be their last partnership together outside of Test cricket.

Returning to the scene of his personal heartbreak in 2016, when Carlos Brathwaite hit him for four consecutive sixes to snatch the T20 World Cup from England’s grasp, Stokes managed to bank a few good memories of his own at the famous old ground.

After being handed a life on 10, when Shaheen Afridi spilled a return catch, he reeled off 11 boundaries and two maximums of his own. One was reminiscent of the Brathwaite assault, clubbed over long-on, but the other was a work of even greater skill and imagination.

Switching his hands against Agha Salman, he slogged a reverse-lap all the way over the ropes at deep third and tumbled the floor as he followed through.

Root’s innings was a more workmanlike affair, but after a six-game lean streak he made sure to get a score on the board. His first 58 deliveries contained only one boundary – off a wayward full toss – but he kept Stokes company and caught up a little as he went on.

In the process he became the first England batter to pass 1,000 runs in World Cup cricket and levelled former captain Eoin Morgan’s record of 55 half-centuries.

Shaheen returned to dismiss both of them before further damage was done, Stokes losing his off stump to a yorker and Root miscuing a slower ball.

Earlier, England had enjoyed their most productive powerplay of the tournament as Dawid Malan and Jonny Bairstow piled on 72 without loss. Malan’s 31 took his tally for the tournament to 404 – a hundred clear of his nearest challenger – and Bairstow’s 59 was his best of the trip. But amid the clamour for change it is hard to see either man with a long-term role in the ODI setup.

Change is coming and neither 36-year-old Malan nor 34-year-old Bairstow, with a Test career to serve and a major leg break in his recent past, may be able to resist.

The last 10 overs there were suitably chaotic, with 97 runs scored, seven wickets falling and five sixes peppering the stands. Jos Buttler (27 in 18 balls), Harry Brook (30 in 17) and Willey (15 off five) were among those to play their part.

Pakistan had arrived with a tiny chance of reaching the semi-finals but needed to bat first to keep it even faintly realistic. By the time they began their chase all hope had gone.

But there was still time for Willey, who has enjoyed an unlikely lap of honour since announcing his retirement in the midst of England’s losing streak, to produce on his last turn with the new ball.

He had Abdullah Shafique lbw with an inswinger in his first over and the dangerous power-hitter Fakhar Zaman caught on the charge in his second.

Pakistan’s most reliable duo held things up with a 51-run stand but Babar Azam dragged a Gus Atkinson bouncer straight to short midwicket and Mohammed Rizwan was clean bowled by sharp turn from Moeen Ali.

That was the first of four successive wickets to spin as Moeen and Adil Rashid played tricks on a wearing pitch. Willey and Woakes were both able to celebrate their landmarks as England secured seventh in the table, Stokes settling underneath the match-winning catch.

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