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Match Analysis

Sam Curran, England's unassuming superstar, delivers at the death in style

Critical boundary-less spell makes the difference as England hunt down sub-par target

Alex Malcolm
Alex Malcolm
13-Nov-2022
Death bowling has been England's kryptonite at T20 World Cups. In 2016, Ben Stokes could not contain Carlos Brathwaite. In 2021, Chris Jordan, Adil Rashid and Chris Woakes gave up 57 runs in three overs to hand New Zealand a berth in the final with six balls to spare.
Sam Curran watched that semi-final while working as a pundit for Sky Sports. Little did he know that, 12 months later, he would be standing in the middle of the MCG as England's answer to their death bowling yips, and as both player of the final and player of the tournament after claiming 3 for 12 against Pakistan.
"[I'm] a little bit lost for words," Curran said in the post-match presentation.
"Coming into this tournament. I wanted it to be adaptable. I obviously haven't bowled at the death as much in my career. And that's an area I always want to keep working at."
While he fumbled to find the words for his outstanding performance, there has been no such wavering at the top of his mark at any stage throughout this tournament.
There is nothing really remarkable about Curran, beyond his shock of bleached blonde hair. There's no express pace, no extra height, and nothing unusual or unique in his action. His slower balls are fairly conventional. Nothing makes him stand out from the crowd.
As a result, batters try and line him up. But they can't.
Pakistan were reasonably well placed with four overs to go in the final, having rebuilt to 119 for 4 on the back of an excellent partnership between Shan Masood and Shadab Khan.
Curran had earlier been a factor in Pakistan slipping behind the eight-ball, showing his versatility to bowl well across all three phases. He took 1 for 5 in his first two overs, including the prized scalp of Mohammad Rizwan.
He showcased his smarts in those opening two overs. While Chris Woakes attempted eight slower balls that cost 15 runs, Curran used the conditions on offer, standing the seam up and hitting precise lengths without trying too many changes of pace.
When he returned to bowl two of the last four overs, just 10 an over from Pakistan's batters would have seen England need 160 to win on a difficult MCG pitch.
Instead, Curran took 2 for 7 in 12 balls to finish with 3 for 12 in a World Cup final, with 15 dot balls, and was the only bowler on either team not to concede a boundary. It was a masterclass in execution, sticking to the simple plan of making Pakistan's batters hit to the long square boundaries, with both Masood and Mohammad Nawaz holing out to deep midwicket.
Pakistan stuttered to 137 for 8, well short of what was needed. But had England been asked to chase only 10 runs more they might not have claimed the title, such was the importance of Curran's performance. It was Masood who articulated what made him so difficult to face, despite being an attractive proposition on face value.
"I think Sam Curran's been top-notch for a while," Masood said. "He's an in-demand player in this format, especially. He's an all-format player. He's just been brilliant. I think he's been very clever. He watches the batter till late.
"He just doesn't go to one particular, predictable length. He can bowl a good yorker. He's got a decent bumper. He bowls his cutters and then even his length ball is a heavy ball. When you see his stature, you want to take him on, but he is that class bowler and I think in this tournament he has been a class apart."
Curran's improvement in this calendar year has been off the charts. In 109 T20s prior to the start of 2022, his economy rate stood at 8.62 and he struck every 19.6 deliveries. In 36 matches this year, his economy rate has dropped to 7.86 and he struck every 14.9 deliveries. In this World Cup, Curran bowled 64 balls in the death overs and took nine wickets at a staggering cost of just 70 runs.
England captain Jos Buttler was grateful to have such a banker to turn to, someone who wanted the ball in his hands at the death.
"Sam Curran has stepped up and been an absolute revelation," Buttler said. "He's a brilliant cricketer, he loves those crunch moments and he's a deserved player of the tournament.
"He's a top performer. He's only going to get better and better though as he's still a young man. But he's got a lot of experience already on his shoulders and he just wants the ball. You tell him he's on and he's already saying 'yeah, I want to bowl'. I'm just so pleased for him; his performances and he's got everything he deserves."
While there will rightly be plaudits for England's superman Ben Stokes for guiding his side to victory with the bat, it was England's unassuming Clark Kent in Curran who handled their death-bowling kryptonite with ease and delivered a title that both he and they richly deserved.

Alex Malcolm is an Associate Editor at ESPNcricinfo