Pakistan and England face off in the final match of the 2022 T20 World Cup on Sunday, November 13, 2022, at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
Never mind the one-percenters and controllables that predominate in post-match cliches. Saqlain Mushtaq received harsh criticism for claiming that the “laws of nature” dictated his team’s results six weeks ago after England had easily regained the lead of their tumultuous seven-match series in Pakistan.
Despite the criticism, Pakistan’s head coach may be excused for being a little perplexed by the changes that he was expected to manage. He had seen Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan cruise to a 200-run target in a single beguiling stand the day before they collapsed to 28 for 4 when chasing a ridiculous 212. On any given night in Karachi, let alone on the biggest stage of them all, one cannot train or tame such savage creativity, let alone pass laws against it.
So, is there any other justification for the ludicrous argument that has led to the situation? 30 years and a few months have passed since the last time this legendary match was played, at the start of the white-ball era in 1992. This time, England will face Pakistan in the World Cup final at the MCG.
Both then and now, Pakistan’s World Cup campaign has been a riot of the last, with as many oddball plot turns as a worn-out old movie franchise. While struggling to remain relevant in a rapidly changing world, this franchise also understands its audience and is aware that nothing gets people into auditoriums faster than a warm, familiar, and nostalgic experience.
Devastating early losses? Check. Miraculous lifelines to save the squad from certain defeat? Check. A sudden display of deranged expertise that has both supporters and opponents wondering how the team’s resolve could ever be questioned? Check.
Only Pakistan could have been so far out of contention that, on this particular occasion, even Netherlands pulling off an incredible upset over South Africa wasn’t enough to put them back on an even keel. Only Pakistan could have suffered such heartbreaking, gut-wrenching defeat to their arch-rival India at the MCG, only to return three weeks later with all their transgressions forgotten. We will be able to verify that it was written if they can now complete that last step.
Jos Buttler’s team has been on no less of a journey at this World Cup, but one of re-affirmation rather than self-discovery as they have been doing that for fun ever since their personal low point at the 2015 World Cup.
They were the most restless team in the competition at the halfway point of the group stages, loading the dot balls and unable to find the boundary. Their careless rain-rules loss to Ireland, when an excess of common courtesy cost them the opportunity to go above the DLS par score, best exemplifies this situation.
No one in England’s middle order had hit more than one six in this tournament as of the final, although Buttler and Alex Hales each hit 10 during their team’s ten-wicket romp against India in Adelaide. That performance stood in consoling contrast to the tense battle for victory that Ben Stokes had led in their crucial group-stage match against Sri Lanka. Perhaps it was a matter of pure relief at meeting the basic necessities of the team’s expectations, similar to the emancipation that occurred against Australia in the 2019 World Cup semifinal.
After all, this Melbourne encounter is a rendezvous with the destiny of a significantly different scale for England’s white-ball agenda-setters. Weather permitting, we will learn within the next 48 hours whether England has succeeded in holding both the 50-over and 20-over World Cups simultaneously, making them the first men’s team in history to do so, and whether, as a result, they have earned a level of greatness that only a handful of teams in history can lay claim to have attained.
One might argue about how these intangibles are assessed, but you cannot dispute how much England’s current crop of players has influenced the tempo of white-ball cricket since 2015. Since that fateful winter, the team has advanced to the semi-finals of all four international competitions. Although the lineup has changed somewhat over time, with Eoin Morgan retiring this year, six members of the team that participated in the 2016 World T20 final in Kolkata are expected to compete on Sunday in Melbourne (seven if both Chris Jordan and David Willey get the call).
And despite all the talk that will undoubtedly be made about 1992 in the ensuing hours and days, perhaps England’s 2016 experience is the most important ghost in the system. Only Stokes truly understands how crucial that misstep was to his never-say-die efforts in 2019 final, but Morgan has since expressed regret for not slowing the pace down in Kolkata and giving his team more breathing room, a sentiment he clearly carried into the tense final seconds of Jofra Archer’s Super Over three years later.
The fact is that England has been in this situation before and has the advantage of having experienced every feeling imaginable during their prior trips to the big time, especially Buttler, whose run-out of Martin Guptill at Lord’s unlocked the best of them on that remarkable July day.
A painful blow to that legacy, seven years of hegemony, and only one (although major) trophy to display for it would result from England failing again at the last hurdle so soon after failing in the UAE last year.
However, it was significant that Buttler and Morgan’s reunion in front of the cameras of Sky Sports in the moments following India’s victory amounted to an on-screen handing of the baton.
“There’s no advice I can give to this man,” Morgan said. “I thought he captained his best-ever game today… so my messaging to anyone who’s asking is ‘they are just ready’.”
Pakistan doesn’t really do “ready,” in contrast. They might, however, be fully prepared for it. Because they have repeatedly and erratically shown, sometimes that is all they need to establish that something was predetermined by the stars from the beginning.