A lot can change in the course of three days. On Friday, Pakistan suffered one of its worst World Cup defeats against West Indies. It was a dismal and embarrassing collapse that put a question mark on their World Cup campaign the moment it began. On Monday, Pakistan, against all conventional wisdom and a mountain of evidence, outplayed England with the bat, the ball and in the field.
England, who are hosts and overwhelming favourites this World Cup, were handed a rude awakening, a reality check that felt quite contrary to reality itself, a simple note that said 'This is the World Cup, brother.'
On a nervy fifth day of the ongoing World Cup, Pakistan returned from the wilderness and pulled down the halo around England's head. Playing vital, combative cricket, and eager to make a point, Pakistan first put up 348 runs on the board — this World Cup's highest — and then proceeded to bowl with belief and discipline against one of the most devastating batting line-ups in recent times, recording a memorable 14-run win that is destined to go down as an instant World Cup classic.
Here are the talking points from the game that belied belief:
A batting reversal
Despite falling in a rut of 11 consecutive ODI defeats, Pakistan's batting lineup has fared well in the run up to the World Cup. In the ODI series while on tour in England, Pakistan's scores read: 361, 359, 341 and 297. It is a testament to England's batting resources that they prevailed over each of these totals. But in their World Cup opener against West Indies on this very same ground, Trent Bridge, Pakistan collapsed like a house of cards in windy outdoors. The West Indians bounced them out of the game, sending one furious short ball after another. Pakistan folded at 105, their second lowest score in World Cup history.
Put to bat first after losing the toss, Pakistan were purposeful right from the start on Monday. The opening pair of Imam-ul-Haq and Fakhar Zaman laid the groundwork with their 82-run stand. When Zaman departed in the 15th over, Babar Azam picked up where he left off and inched his way to a studied fifty. Then came the Mohammad Hafeez onslaught. His eye-catching 84 off 62 became Pakistan's fuel in the middle overs and he was ably supported by Sarfaraz Ahmed. By the time the Pakistani captain departed after a crucial half century, the damage was already done. Late little cameos by Hasan Ali and Shadab Khan propelled Pakistan to 348.
This was not a total beyond the reach of England's batting might, but it was considerable. It put the onus on the English. The hosts have already been under a spotlight. They are overwhelming favourites to win the whole thing. And a World Cup is not a bilateral series. It comes with unprecedented pressure and the weight of expectations. Under that weight and in the face of Pakistan's resurgent bowling rigour, England crumbled.
A game of inches
It was by no means a straightforward way ahead for Pakistan with the ball. Even with 348 on the board, anyone who has been watching the sport keenly in the last few years would probably not think twice before putting their money on England. Jason Roy, Jonny Bairstow, Joe Root, Eoin Morgan, Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler are a fearsome line-up.
But Pakistan struck early. Just like South Africa's leggy Imran Tahir had made good use of the new ball in the World Cup opener against England, Pakistan's Shadab Khan pulled the trick with the new ball too, picking up Jason Roy in the third over. Spin with the new ball is fast becoming a trope this World Cup, and a successful one too.
In the course of the game, Pakistan kept picking up wickets when they needed them the most. Crucial wickets of Joe Root and Jos Buttler, both of whom scored excellent tons, became the turning points of the game that looked like it was edging away from Pakistan.
And much like his team, Wahab Riaz came back from the oblivion and snatched up Moeen Ali and Chris Woakes in a blistering short spell to kill all hopes of an English comeback. It was an excellent bowling effort by Pakistan, commandeered smartly by Sarfaraz and backed to the brink by the fielders.
Root and Buttler exhibit class
England's resistance was just two guys: Joe Root and Joss Buttler. Not that anyone was asking for credentials, but Root and Buttler showed why they are among the finest batting talents in the world right now. Root only ever slipped up once in his innings, when he was dropped at nine. He went on to bat flawlessly. It was thus a surprise when he threw away his wicket in abandon the moment he reached his 100. It was as if he switched off for a second in giddy mental celebration of his ton and did not see the guy at third man. His slice off a quicker one from Shadab flew straight into the hands of Hafeez.
Buttler departed in eerily similar fashion, moments after reaching his century. He had been ruthless in his 103 off 76, creaming bastard shots off deliveries that weren't even necessarily bad. But he was caught off guard by an off-cutter by Mohammad Amir. He slashed it to short third man, deflating England's chase altogether.
Had either of Root or Buttler stayed on for four more overs, the story of the day would most likely be different. But cricket writes its own stories. England will be disappointed by the result, but they will take heart in two fine and memorable World Cup centuries, albeit in a losing cause.
The Cup is open
What the miracle of Trent Bridge achieves, aside from instantly blowing a gust of wind in Pakistan's sails, is that it throws the World Cup wide open. England aren't invincible. Their batting line-up is formidable, yes, but not unstoppable. The aura around them has taken a bit of a beating. This was a first loss at home for them while chasing after 20 straight wins. This shows that the World Cup is different beast altogether. The pressure, the atmosphere, the expectations sets the tournament apart. Abstract and intangible things like "mental fortitude", "fire in the belly" and "ice in the veins" start taking corporeal shape.
If Pakistan can come back from total darkness and eclipse all the hype around England, anything can happen. But, expect England to reply in kind now. They have been handed a reality check early on in the tournament. It's the best time to get one. They will react ferociously and with pride.