England’s golden 50-over generation signed off with a win on Saturday at Eden Gardens – too little, too late to salvage a dreadful World Cup, but enough to guarantee qualification for the Champions Trophy in 2025.
And let’s be honest: after five weeks of mainly lame cricket from Jos Buttler and his team, they were happy to take whatever they could get.
Victory over Pakistan by 93 runs was as well as they have played since arriving in India, though that made you wonder why England took so long to find something resembling their old selves.
For Ben Stokes, in particular, an innings of 84 off 76 balls, to follow Wednesday’s 78-ball century against the Netherlands, meant it was tempting to ask how differently the tournament might have panned out had he not missed the first three matches with a hip injury, then taken time to relocate his rhythm.
But the reality is that England never came remotely close to beating any of the major nations when it mattered. Six defeats are their most at any World Cup, while the loss of 85 wickets all told has been surpassed only by Afghanistan in 2019.
England ended their dismal World Cup in fine fashion with a 93-run win against Pakistan
David Willey ended his England career with a stellar performance after he took three wickets
Earlier, Willey had bludgeoned 15 from just five balls with the bat as England posted 337-9
Ben Stokes hit 84 as he continued his good form with his third successive 50-plus score
As India celebrates Diwali, the festival of lights, England have been groping in the dark for the form that made them double world champions – and for an explanation of their shortcomings.
The extent to which this game is the precursor to sweeping change in the ODI team will become clear when managing director Rob Key names the two white-ball squads for the trip to the Caribbean – possibly as early as Sunday. But this win should not make the blindest bit of difference.
It made for the strange sight of one England batsman after another returning to the pavilion without a crowd of over 37,000 knowing if they were bidding farewell to the 50-over format.
David Willey had already announced his retirement, while Moeen Ali has foreshadowed his. But any combination of Jonny Bairstow, Dawid Malan, Joe Root, Stokes, Chris Woakes and Adil Rashid may look back on this match as their last.
Collectively, they had a pretty good night. Malan made 31 before edging a reverse-sweep, and Bairstow a fluent 59 before – to his disbelief – picking out extra cover.
Joe Root also scored 60 as he anchored the England innings after a difficult World Cup
Jonny Bairstow plundered 59 at the top of the innings as England made another good start
In response, Pakistan could only muster 244 as they concluded a similarly difficult campaign
Root ended a horror run with a careful 60, but Moeen missed a hack on eight, having just pulled an effortless six: it was a characteristic conclusion to an entertaining career.
Buttler’s enterprising 27 off 18 could not disguise a miserable campaign that has left question marks over his suitability for the captaincy, while Harry Brook – one of the few members of this squad guaranteed to play a big part in England’s one-day future – showed off his talent with 30 from 17.
But it was Stokes, at the venue where he conceded his four sixes in four balls to West Indies’ Carlos Brathwaite seven years ago, who illuminated a typically hazy Kolkatan afternoon with 11 fours and two sixes, helping England to their second successive total in the 330s.
It makes complete sense that he should now re-retire from one-day cricket in order to prolong his Test career. But that doesn’t mean England won’t miss him.
Pakistan’s hopes of squeezing into the last four on net run-rate at the expense of New Zealand had been all but ruined the moment Buttler won the toss and chose to bat, depriving Babar Azam’s team of the chance to score 400, then skittle England.
Salman Agha was the only Pakistani batter to offer any resistance as he made a quickfire 51
England’s wickets were shared with Moeen Ali (left) and Adil Rashid (right) taking two each
Despite finishing with two wins, there is still plenty of ponder for Jos Butler and England
Their ambition turned instead to a consolation win, but Willey immediately nipped in with the wickets of Abdullah Shafique, lbw second ball, and Fakhar Zaman, caught at mid-off for a single.
When Babar pulled Gus Atkinson straight to Rashid at midwicket, Pakistan were 61 for three and facing a slow death. Rashid, who moved to 199 ODI wickets, and Moeen chipped away to confirm it.
Willey managed his 100th, before Woakes ended a raucous last-wicket stand of 53 to become England’s leading wicket-taker at World Cups, his 31 taking him past Ian Botham.
As planned many weeks ago, they have peaked ahead of the semi-finals. It’s just a shame about the troughs beforehand.