A major upset it was. England, on the rise in one-day cricket ever since the 2015 World Cup and the only unbeaten country hitherto in this Champions Trophy, were knocked out by Pakistan, who had only just qualified for the tournament in eighth place. They now go through to Sunday’s all-Asian final at The Oval against Bangladesh or India.
Pakistan completely outwitted England in conditions that could not have suited Sarfraz Ahmed’s side better – and who can begrudge them? Not since 2009 have Pakistan been able to play at home against anybody other than minor opposition. In this game, for once, the pitch could have been in Karachi not Cardiff.
It was a slow, low turner which had lost what grass it had on Monday when Pakistan defeated Sri Lanka on it. Hence the pitch suited Pakistan in three ways: it turned for their spinners, of whom they had one of each type; it was abrasive, so it roughed up the balls for their three reverse-swing bowlers; and it did not bounce, so Pakistan’s batsmen were not embarrassed by the short ball as they had been against Sri Lanka and knocked off the runs with eight wickets and 77 balls to spare.
Hasan Ali, a fist-pumping, arm-outstretching inspiration, finished with 3 for 35 and his 10 wickets make him the leading wicket-taker in the tournament - the face of Pakistan's success. He continued to sweet-talk the Kookaburra ball into occasional responses - a reluctant grunt of reverse here, a wink of compliance there. Junaid Khan was another impressive suitor.
Pakistan had been dealt a potentially grievous blow before the toss when Mohammad Amir, their attack leader, was ruled out of the match with a back spasm. However, Rumman Raees, his reputation enhanced in the Pakistan Super League, put in a solid shift of left-arm fast-medium on his ODI debut. Imad Wasim's left-arm slows and the leg spin of the recalled Shadab Khan also contained England's ambitions on a dry, used surface, with the seasoned Mohammad Hafeez equally hard to combat.
Pakistan's chase was a breeze, and Fakhar Zaman's exuberant innings - 57 from 58 balls - was an unfastened kite that swirled around unpredictably in that breeze. An opening stand of 118 in 21 overs made necessary early inroads into England's total. While Azhar progressed intelligently to 76, Fakhar pretty much did what he liked.
Fakhar, a former navy trainee who is in his first ODI series, claimed his second successive half-century in a do-or-die game. England's quicks pounded the middle of the pitch in an obsessive belief that they could dismiss him with the short ball. Their conviction was understandable because it was a seat-of-the-pants innings from the moment he top-edged the second ball he faced, from Mark Wood, over fine leg for six. Another flew in the same direction off the helmet. An on-the-charge pull against Jake Ball was another variation.
By the time England reviewed for a supposed catch behind the wicket, Fakhar had his fifty and one suspected that Wood, back for a second spell, wanted the replay because of sheer aggravation. It showed, as Fakhar knew it would, that the ball had brushed his hip. He fell in the next over, deceived by Adil Rashid's googly as he made room to blaze him over the off-side to be stumped by Buttler.
Azhar Ali increasingly looks a class act. Little troubled him until he charged a slower ball from Ball and bottom-edged it into his stumps. There is talk of a slight calf strain and Pakistan need him in the final. Mohammad Hafeez, who should have been stumped by Buttler off Rashid, sparked celebrations by pulling a long hop from Stokes to the boundary. Stokes' 3.1 overs disappeared for 38 - an off-colour display that epitomised England's collective lethargy.
Such a towelling was not remotely signalled as noon approached. That England reached 80 for 1 midway through the 17th over was contentment enough. It was at this stage that Jonny Bairstow - summoned in preference to the woefully out-of-touch Jason Roy, who had made 52 in his last eight knocks - fell for 43 from 57 balls. Joe Root and Eoin Morgan also got starts (not that Morgan ever settled), but it was Stokes' careworn innings that was most revealing.
Stokes had pummelled Australia at The Oval to knock them out of the tournament, but he failed to hit a boundary in scraping 34 from 64 balls before he struck a slower off-cutter from Hasan straight up in the air 15 balls from the end. It felt like hard work: he might have been batting in dense air. England hit only 15 boundaries, only one in the last 11 overs - and that was an edge.
Pakistan restricted England despite the sensation that luck was siding with the home side. Three reviews fell in their favour in the first half of the innings. Bairstow might have fallen lbw second ball, for nought. But Bairstow survived against Junaid by virtue of umpire's call and a plentiful supply of leg-side whips gave England the sort of start they had been lacking all summer.
Bairstow was dropped twice, too, on 27, when Azhar failed to cling to a tough, leaping catch above his head, and again on 42 when he swiped at a wide one from Shadab and another head-high chance this time evaded Babar at slip. Generally, however, Pakistan's outfielding was at the top of its game.
Alex Hales overturned his dismissal, lbw to Raees on 9, but failed to prosper as the same bowler defeated his advance down the pitch courtesy of a catch at short extra cover. Morgan also benefited from a review, on 19, rightly confident that the deflection when he reverse-swept Shadab would prove to have come off his forearm.
If Bairstow had become anxious at England's slowing progress, it was nothing compared to the disquiet in the second half of the innings as the ball softened and reverse swing became evident. It has been a while since Morgan allowed himself such a prolonged period of assessment, a succession of defensive pushes at deliveries angled into him symbolising England's unease.
Joe Root was England's fall-back on such a surface and he proceeded to 46 from 56 balls with a succession of learned pushes that were beyond his team-mates - 30 singles in all. He took painkillers in case his back played up, but fell cutting when Shadab summoned a little extra pace and bounce.
Morgan, fortunate not to be bowled by Hafeez when he tried to pull early in the innings, eventually charged at Hasan in desperation and the ball, not just wide but moving wider, was edged into the wicketkeeper's hands. Jos Buttler soon followed, Junaid angling the ball across him.
As Stokes laboured, nobody else filled him with hope. Moeen Ali departed to a top-edged pull against Junaid, excellently held on the run by Fakhar at deep square leg. Rashid suffered a hangdog run-out after being struck on the pad by a yorker. England's bowlers hoped they would be happier with a ball in their hands. Instead, the truth was far less palatable.