I didn’t see England’s eight-wicket Champions Trophy defeat to Pakistan in Cardiff coming. But their failure to adapt to conditions cost them a place in Sunday’s final and the chance to finally win global 50-over silverware.
It could be argued that Pakistan had the advantage of playing at Sophia Gardens in their last group-stage match against Sri Lanka and subsequently having prior knowledge of the conditions but that’s no excuse for England.
Pakistan simply executed their skills on a slow, dry and used pitch exceptionally well and ought to be richly praised for a bowling performance which disarmed England and denied them the chance to play their natural game. A victory target of 212 proved easy for Pakistan.
My former Surrey team-mate Azhar Mahmood is now Pakistan’s bowling coach and he will be transferring all his skills to the seamers in that squad, teaching them how to get the ball to reverse.
When they got the ball reversing, Pakistan’s execution of yorkers was the best I’ve seen in the tournament so far and they also showed how to bowl at the death.
That is something which England still need to improve upon because, at times, it’s not quite right. Pakistan don’t do it consistently enough themselves but when they get it right they are the best in the world at it.
As for England, there is a lot they can take from the tournament and use as they build towards the 2019 World Cup, which is also on home soil. Six players averaged over 40 and I have been impressed with leg-spinner Adil Rashid and Durham quick Mark Wood in the bowling unit.
There are positives – victories over New Zealand and Australia for instance – and I’m sure England will learn from the competition and, indeed, their exit. Teams lose games along the way and Wednesday was one of those occasions.
But England do have a reputation for falling short. They lost in the final of the Champions Trophy when it was staged here in 2013 and then also in the final of the World Twenty20 last year, albeit that was down to a freak final over when Carlos Brathwaite clubbed Ben Stokes for four successive sixes.
I don’t think there is a mental issue about getting over the line, however. Conditions simply didn’t suit Eoin Morgan’s side on Wednesday and they failed to adapt. Pakistan, conversely, made hay in what would be classed as a more favourable environment.
That is the crucial difference between being one of the top four one-day teams on the planet to being the best. I have no doubt England can reach No1 in the 50-over rankings and also win global competitions but they must learn to survive when curveballs are thrown.
They have done well at that at times during the last two years since the disastrous 2015 World Cup, but it’s about consistently overcoming problems and finding ways to win when everything is not in your favour.