Bairstow a fine find, says Cook
Alastair Cook believes that England have "found one" in their quest to build a world-beating 50-overs team to go alongside their top-ranked Test squad, after the Yorkshire debutant, Jonny Bairstow, blazed a brilliant 41 not out from 21 balls to win the fifth and final ODI at Cardiff.
In a rain-reduced run-chase, England had been set a stiff 241 from 34 overs and still needed 75 at almost nine an over when Bairstow emerged in the 25th. But after smacking his fifth ball over midwicket for six, he settled comfortably into an attacking groove, as he and Ravi Bopara wrapped up the contest with ten balls to spare.
"I just wanted to go out and play my natural game," said Bairstow. "It wasn't necessarily easy, and it was really pleasing the way it turned out in the end. There were obviously some nerves. That's only natural, and you've just got to turn them into something positive. It was a new challenge and something I really enjoyed, but a massive part of it is how the guys, the captain and the coach, make you feel when you come into the set-up. You're made to feel completely at home."
The six-wicket victory gave England an impressive 3-0 scoreline to go alongside their 4-0 whitewash in the Tests, as well as their one-off win in the Twenty20 at Old Trafford, and as Cook's thoughts now turn to the challenge that awaits his new-look squad in the return one-day series in India next month, he believes that Bairstow has the makings of a vital member of England's middle-order.
"What a way to make an international statement," said Cook. "I think we've just found a player. I don't want to heap too much pressure on him, but to make your debut like that and go and play in such a controlled but positive way was incredible. The lads looking around in the dressing room were saying we've just found one. All credit to Jonny for that. It's never always going to be plain sailing, but he looks like an outstanding prospect."
The scenario for England in the final match of the series had not looked too rosy at the halfway point of the contest, after India had posted their first 300-plus total of summer courtesy a Virat Kohli century. But the calm confidence that has been a hallmark of England's batting all series came once again to the fore, with important contributions from every member of the top six.
"That was an outstanding chase - 240 in 34 overs, to get it done with 10 balls to spare," said Cook. "The batting line-up as a whole can take a lot of credit for that, and the way Jonny and Ravi finished it off was spectacular. What we have done is started off on what we hope will be a very successful journey.
"Obviously we've missed the experienced players, [but it] has given others an opportunity," he added. "It's been a tough battle, close games and rain - and I've been very happy with the way we've been able to adapt. We've had a lot of little situations thrown at us, and the way we've handled them - especially as a batting side - is pleasing.
In the absence of several key players, including the established middle-order pairing of Kevin Pietersen and Eoin Morgan, as well as the two senior seamers, James Anderson and Stuart Broad, Cook was pleased to finish the series with so many new contenders making their case for selection. Jade Dernbach tailed off towards the end of the series but sealed the Twenty20 with a Man-of-the-Match performance, while Ben Stokes - who missed this game with a damaged finger - is another man who can expect to feature strongly in India next month.
"With these young players coming in now - people like Jade, who's made a mark, obviously Jonny, Ben Stokes - I'm very happy with how we've played in certain areas," Cook said. "The hunger and determination to improve from the lads is very encouraging. We are going to need that over the next couple of months in subcontinent conditions, where we haven't played a huge amount of successful one-day cricket, and our learning curve is going to be steep, but I'm very confident in the players we've got.
"It's been an incredible summer for us, and in the last two months we've played some outstanding cricket," he added. "In these last few games we've managed to sneak home, which shows very good character in the side and that bodes well for the future.
On a personal note, it has been an impressive summer's work from the captain Cook, who restarted his ODI career amid criticism of his "plodding" tempo in limited-overs cricket. He has now passed fifty in six of his 13 games in charge, at a strike-rate of 94.53, while securing series wins against each of his three opponents, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and India.
"I hope I've answered a few of the critics," Cook said. "But it's not about proving people wrong as such; it's about proving to myself that I can do it. The last couple of games I don't think I've played as well as I could have done. I think I've struggled a little bit with my timing. It always takes time for a new captain to come in and players to get used to your style. But we'll call it a good start, and move on from there."
The next challenge promises to be Cook's toughest yet, as he prepares to take on India in their own conditions in their first series on home soil since the World Cup victory in April. On their last tour of the country in November 2008, under Kevin Pietersen, England were drubbed 5-0 in the ODIs and also lost an incredible Test in Chennai, so the scale of the task is not to be under-estimated, even with the morale of the two teams so polarised.
"India are world champions for a reason," said Cook. "When we went to India last time we didn't win a game, so that shows the challenge we have ahead of us in these next two months. But with the developing squad we've got, these are exciting times - and I think we can adapt well to those conditions."
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo