Pakistan v England, 1st ODI, Abu Dhabi

Captain Cook defies doubters

Cook may not be a natural at one-day cricket but he has worked hard to improve his game and carried his England team-mates to victory over Pakistan

George Dobell in Abu Dhabi

February 13, 2012

Comments: 15 | Text size: A | A

Alastair Cook's well-paced hundred guided England's innings, Pakistan v England, 1st ODI, Abu Dhabi, February, 13, 2012
Alastair Cook led from the front in the first ODI, scoring more runs than the whole Pakistan team managed put together © AFP
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Alastair Cook could be forgiven for wearing a smug expression after England's ODI victory over Pakistan in Abu Dhabi. Not only did it end a grim winless streak - England had lost nine of their last ten international games and their last five ODIs - but he had proved a point to his army of critics.

Cook is not a universally popular choice as England's ODI captain. Some have criticised his somewhat one-paced batting; others his lack of feel for captaincy. In short, a host of former players - the likes of Sir Ian Botham, David Lloyd, Dermot Reeve and Mike Atherton - either questioned his place in the side or his position as captain.

The point the critics missed was this: since he was made England's ODI captain, Cook's batting has improved immensely. Before he was appointed permanently, Cook averaged 33 in ODIs and had a strike-rate of 71.38. Since returning, however, he has averaged 52.64 at a strike-rate of 93.76. After being dropped - having led England in Strauss's absence on the tour of Bangladesh in early 2010 - Cook returned to Essex, worked with Graham Gooch on expanding his array of strokes and has emerged a new man. He is a much improved limited-overs cricketer and now only Gooch, of England batsman, has a higher ODI score against Pakistan.

The jury is still out on Cook's long-term suitability for this format or this role. But, bearing in mind how poor the England side were when he was appointed captain, then progress was always going to take time. This was his third ODI century, his second since becoming captain and, as he suggested, it may have been his best.

"I probably batted more fluently in that game against Sri Lanka [it was actually India, in Southampton], when I got 80 off 60 balls," he said. "But as a whole innings, in the context of the game, I'm really happy with the way I played.

"We all know the fickle world of cricket. In the summer when things were going really well, everyone was on our side. Then we had a bad tour ... but as I've always said, as captain, you're judged by results - and we didn't play very well. I take responsibility.

"But today was a really good day for the side. It was good to play to our potential, which I don't think we had done so far on this tour. We did need this win and it was great to be able to contribute to it."

Here he was obliged to carry his team. While Kevin Pietersen, confidence seemingly ebbing away by the day, squandered the Powerplay overs by patting back Mohammad Hafeez's offspin as if each delivery might spit like a cobra, Cook timed the ball with surprising ease. He found the gaps, swept hard, manoeuvred the ball off his legs expertly and, when the opportunity arose, drove nicely. His contributions are routinely dismissed as workmanlike and worthy but, on an evening where only one other man could reach 30, this was a high-class innings.

Afterwards he reflected on his improved ODI form, reasoning that his original selection may have come too early. A stint in the county game had also proved beneficial.

"When I first played ODIs, I hadn't played that much for Essex," Cook said. "In the two-and-a-half years I was out of the side, I just became more experienced. I went back to Essex, played a lot more one-day cricket, played T20 cricket and was able to work on my game away from the international stage.

But one sand dune does not make a desert. England still lost all seven wickets to spin bowling with Saeed Ajmal again cutting through the middle-order. This suggests England's troubles are not over and their long-term record in both ODI cricket and in Asia remains poor. Excluding Bangladesh, England have now won just once against an Asian team in Asia since 2007. This, however, might have been a step on the long journey towards improvement.

 
 
While Pietersen played Mohammad Hafeez's offspin as if each delivery might spit like a cobra, Cook timed the ball with surprising ease
 

The performances of Ravi Bopara, Steve Finn and, to a lesser extent, Samit Patel, who played a selfless innings and with the ball reaped the rewards of Finn's excellence, were also encouraging. Coming to the crease on a hat-trick, Bopara enjoyed some fortune early in his innings, before demonstrating his sweet timing and improved temperament. It was an important performance from a man who might well, had Jos Buttler been fit, have missed out on selection once again.

"That was a really big knock for Ravi," Cook said afterwards. "The way he handled the pressure was a real key moment. If we'd lost another couple of wickets it would have been 'here we go again'. I hope he can build on that and play some really important innings for us - because we know how talented he is."

Finn, meanwhile, exceeded 90mph with the ball but, more impressively, maintained a perfect length. His four-wicket opening burst as good as decided this game and underlined the impression that, aged 22, he has an exciting future. It is a strong Test attack that cannot find room for a bowler of Finn's ability.

England's poor batting in the recently concluded Test series hid one very significant factor: Pakistan did not always bat very well either. Here, faced with Finn's extra pace and lacking Azhar Ali's resilience, they buckled with surprising ease. England bowled well, but the fact that no Pakistan batsman scored more than 28 tells its own story. They lacked composure under pressure and adequate techniques to cope with Finn's hostility and probing line and length.

It was not the only disappointing aspect of their cricket. Their fielding was also lacklustre, while their seamers' 15 overs cost 100 runs. It is their first loss in eight games, however, so judgement should surely be reserved. In Ajmal - who claimed the first five-wicket haul of his ODI career - and Shahid Afridi they have two champion bowlers who could yet decide this series.

Afterwards Younis Khan was gracious in defeat. "England played much better than Pakistan," he said. "Steven Finn looked very much improved. He is a fantastic bowler and really surprised me with his aggression. His body language and the way he banged it in were very good. The way they bowled the first ten overs outclassed us.

"Cook played a wonderful knock and he was very positive right from the start. It was a very nice innings to watch and if a captain does well then the team is lifted. And it was a very good performance from Bopara, too. I said during the Dubai Test that England are a very good side and they could bounce back. Well, they have."

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by SirWilliam on (February 15, 2012, 22:16 GMT)

@clarke501 - I quite agree with you that Finn has improved greatly. He is at an age when this happens rapidly. The point I was trying to make was that he can only improve as a Test bowler by playing Test cricket. I therefore maintain that his development as a Test cricketer is being held back. Again, I was not suggesting that he would get into the Australian side - they have a good crop of young quicks coming through anyway - just that they would not allow someone of his quality to languish outside the team.

Posted by shillingsworth on (February 14, 2012, 18:23 GMT)

@RandyOz - headline from a recent article written by Mr A Mallett - 'Clarke treads in the footsteps of the greats. Australia's three great modern captains have been Richie Benaud, Ian Chappell and Mark Taylor. And their latest leader may soon be counted among them.' God the Australians go too early dont they?

Posted by shillingsworth on (February 14, 2012, 14:15 GMT)

@SirWilliam - understand the point you make regarding Anderson but there is no sign that Finn's development is being held back. He is clearly a better bowler now than when he last played test cricket, suggesting that the work he did last summer away from the test arena has been beneficial. He would certainly be in the Australian side, but they don't have England's strength in depth.

Posted by   on (February 14, 2012, 14:00 GMT)

basically we can say that Pakistan lost to Alastair cook by 7 runs !! Except for him and to some extent Bopara rest all the batsmen ; KP-Trott n company again succumbed to the spin but he stood like rock for his team. I always consider Cook a better captain than Strauss & broad though Englands ODI records poor as compared to their test n t20 , hes a better player and better human being as well who beleives simply in classy cricket than mindgames. But Its 100% sure than Cooks gonna be future test captain for england and if Strauss does not want england to have more downfall in tests he better hands over his Captaincy cap to Cook.

Posted by RandyOZ on (February 14, 2012, 13:20 GMT)

Cook will be shown up for the hack he is against better bowling attacks. One good series against a weak Aussie attack does not mean he is actually good. God the English go too early dont they?

Posted by Malti65 on (February 14, 2012, 11:37 GMT)

How did the pace kings become spin kings and copletely lost out in fast bowling.

Posted by SirWilliam on (February 14, 2012, 10:25 GMT)

With Duncan Fletcher it was James Anderson and now, with Andy Flower, it seems to be Steven Finn: a young top-class fast bowler who is repeatedly ignored for the Test side and consequently held back in his development. Finn is, I think, the youngest to 50 Test wickets for England and yet is continually left out of the side. He has that very rare gift, genuine pace (and he is getting faster), and so needs to play regularly, now, to become the great bowler that he undoubtedly can be. I don't think it would be allowed to happen in Australia, for example.

Posted by zenboomerang on (February 14, 2012, 9:13 GMT)

Good on Cook for his fighting century & Bopara being all that was left of the batting... A true captains innings... All those bashing Cook seemed to have slid under their rocks again... lol... Really hope that Pietersen, Trott, Morgan, Kieswetter find some form soon & improve their strike rates as you cannot always really on 1 batsman to save the team all the time...

Posted by Sports4Youth on (February 14, 2012, 8:28 GMT)

Gotta feel for Ajmal, Afridi & Hafeez. They did the perfect job with the ball. It was W.Riaz and U.Gul that gave away 100 runs in 15 overs. Then the batting let them down big time. Not to mention the poor fielding was the Normal self they are, Pak.

Posted by Sports4Youth on (February 14, 2012, 8:26 GMT)

No doubt. Cook's innings was from a different class among the 22 players who played this match.

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