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As England cement their legacy, fans will debate if Melbourne was their finest white-ball hour

image-lajs4p3mEngland won the recently held T20 WC [Source: AP]

It always felt as though England should get there against Pakistan, despite a sticky, tricky surface at the MCG. It was a superb English bowling performance after a nervy start. There was even a wicket maiden - as rare hen’s teeth in T20s. 

With Pakistan’s top two of Rizwan and Babar Azam dismissed, the latter in that wicket-maiden to a superb Adil Rashid googly that could lay a fair claim to being the ball of the tournament, Pakistan’s middle and lower order failed to land punches as Jos Buttler’s bowlers expertly bobbed and weaved. 

Despite the best efforts of ShanMasood and Shadab Khan, 137 for 8 was 30 below the MCG’s tournament par of167, albeit after 3 games out of six had been lost to the rain that so nearly robbed us of the Sunday final too.

Collectively, Ben Stokes, Chris Woakes, Sam Curran, Adil Rashid, Chis Jordan andLiam Livingston delivered no less than thirty- eight dot balls on top of their eight wickets., Sam Curran’s 3 for 12 further buffed his credentials as England’s deadliest death bowler alongside Chris Jordan, who found himself in a world final he might not have graced, had Mark Wood been fit. 

On such twists of misfortune and fate can a final’s history be made. Football’s Jimmy Greaves and Geoff Hurst in 1966 will always come to mind in that regard for English fans of a certain age.

image-lajs8crcSam Curran was the player of the tournament [Source: AP]

Fate was to have a further cruel and perhaps decisive trick to play in this Melbourne final. The return to form of Shaheen Shah Afridi had been pivotal in Pakistan’s touch and go tournament progress. His face-off with Buttler and Hales was always likely to be crucial and he was well in credit there, having removed Alex Hales for just a single with a vicious in swinger to complete the first over of England’s reply. 

A solitary boundary in his second powerplay over further ratcheted up his personal pressure on the chasing side. But the game changed in the 13th over when England fell to 84 for 4, Afridi sliding to catch Harry Brook off Shadab Khan. The delight forPakistan immediately turning to concern as Afridi clutched his recently operated upon knee. 

A heroic but futile attempt to return was hard to watch and alasPakistan’s destroyer in chief was done.England, with their extraordinary batting depth would likely have got over the line anyway, but the loss of Afridi drained belief for one side and bolstered it for the other. Ben Stokes, magnificently proved yet again he is the man for the biggest occasion. 

Ian Botham was one asked if he wrote his own scripts. The same question will be asked of the talismanic Stokes. His first ever T20I fifty came as he crackedWasim’s full toss to the boundary to level the scores. More than that it laid ghost of2016 when Carlos Brathwaite (remember that name?), had Stokes and England on their knees in despair and defeat.

image-lajsb0i3Hales and Buttler had brilliant WC campaigns [Source: AP]

Perhaps remarkably, given the extraordinary transformation that has taken place inEngland’s white ball cricket since, there were no less than six of the Eden Gardens vanquished amongst England’s Melbourne heroes. 

But none will have savoured the sweet taste of success more than Stokes.Whatever they do from here, this England team have secured a legacy as one of English sport’s greatest ever. 

They are double white ball champions, the first to hold both world crowns. The mantle passed from Eoin Morgan to Jos Buttler looks in the best possible hands, with Buttler now exuding calm authority in his leadership and with deep and adaptable resources at his disposal.

Where Sunday’s final win sits amongst others will surely provide high octane conversational fuel in pubs and bars for some while to come. 

In limited over’s cricket, there are seven to consider. Trailblazing victories for England’s women in1973, 1993 and 2009, will all too often slip beneath the radar. Any defeat ofAustralia is to be savoured and the Men’s 2010 victory in Barbados felt both satisfying and fun. England’s Women at Lords in 2017 must sit near the peak given the crowd, the location and the glass ceiling smashing significance of the achievement. 

Then of course, came the ‘barest of margins’ World Cup win forEngland in 2019 and now, post pandemic, the double crown for England secured at the MCG. For me, Sunday’s win just takes the honours, securing that double as it did and away from home too.

It should be gratefully savoured by fans and players alike. That England have been given just four days to do so before being pitched back into white ball battle seems frankly daft and even ungrateful, but will not dampen their delight. 

For now, the victory glow reflecting from Mathew Mott’s shaven head and the mystery colour of Sam Curran’s dyed hair suggest England are not wasting their limited celebration time.

Also Read: Sam Curran, the impact performer for England