Pakistan v England, 2nd ODI, Abu Dhabi February 15, 2012

Cook's class exposes Pakistan

George Dobell in Abu Dhabi
England's captain led from the front in another impressive win and while Misbah-ul-Haq tried to respond Pakistan suffered from some basic errors

This game could have been a tale of two captains. While Alastair Cook and Misbah-ul-Haq both batted impressively, only one of them enjoyed much support from his team and was, as a consequence, able to progress to provide the match-defining innings.

Cook, once again, batted beautifully. Calm, assured and classy, he became the first England captain to record centuries in successive ODIs and only the ninth England players to do so. More importantly, he earned his England side an unassailable 2-0 lead in the four-match series.

Misbah might have been able to thwart Cook. With 67 deliveries remaining, his side required only 72 more runs and had six wickets in hand. Instead, Pakistan's captain could do little but look on as England's seamers picked off his team-mates. While Cook was supported by an excellent display in the field and some sensible support with the bat, Misbah had to content with a wicketkeeper who resembles a colander and a lower-order as brittle as a crisp.

So, how much does this result represent an improvement in the form of the England team, or how much is it simply the result of the outstanding form of its captain?

The answer is a bit of both. Cook has not been the only England player to enjoy a good series to date: Steven Finn has bowled with pace, hostility and skill to claim four wickets in each match, while Ravi Bopara, for the second game in succession, showed he has developed the substance to go with his style in contributing an important half-century.

There were other promising signs for England. Kevin Pietersen looked in better form, though the familiar manner of dismissal was a worry, while Samit Patel bowled with intelligence and control. He fielded well, too, while James Anderson and Graeme Swann also enjoyed good games with the ball. Those are highly encouraging signs. But take Cook - playing the best limited-overs cricket of his life at present - out of the equation and the margins between these teams is minimal.

One area in which England have a clear edge is fielding. In a game decided by a margin of 20 runs, it may well have been the key factor. Indeed, had Umar Akmal held on to a simple chance offered by Cook when he had 28, Pakistan might have won. Later Mohammed Hafeez admitted Pakistan were "not the best fielding side in the world" but that they had "tried their level best." He also inadvertently offered the faintest of praise for Akmal's keeping by stating "he's done it before." At international level, that should be a prerequisite.

Perhaps England also benefited from some fortune. Craig Kieswetter and Stuart Broad both dropped chances, but Pakistan were unable to take advantage, while Cook admitted that winning the toss was "advantageous". Still, England won the toss at times in India and were unable to take advantage. They are showing signs of progress.

Pakistan have a serious issue with the balance of their side. The fragility of their batting has seen Akmal pressed into service as a wicketkeeper and, as things stand, he simply is not up to the job. Here it was his reprieve of Cook that cost his side. In the previous game it was his missed stumping of Bopara. Pakistan cannot afford such profligacy. It is hard to think of a poorer keeper in the international game.

The problem is compounded by the frailty of the Pakistan tail. Abdur Rehman - who wasted 12 balls in scoring just 1 - looks a couple of places too high at No. 8, while his fellow bowlers are all No. 11s. Azhar Ali, playing his second ODI, may well develop into a fine player in this format, but at present there is too much required of Misbah.

For it was not just the runs Cook scored that mattered, but that he soon calculated what a good score was on this surface and ensured England reached that target. Such precise judgement is not easy to acquire

Misbah's record as part of a chasing side is little less than extraordinary. In games where Pakistan have won batting second, Misbah averages 85. Here, with just a little support, he might have seen his side to victory, but his partners left him with too much to do. Even Shahid Afridi, for all his appeal, has become so hit and miss with the bat, that he has passed fifty only once in his last 28 ODI innings. Indeed, he has passed fifty only 38 times in his 336 game ODI career. Which means he has not passed fifty in 298 games.

In their last 27 ODIs, Pakistan have registered a score of 250 or more just three times. While that statistic is slightly misleading - Pakistan have won many of those games batting second - it does confirm one suspicion: the strength of Pakistan is in their bowling attack. But until they can find another all-rounder or two, the balance of the side will remain an issue. Hammad Azam is one option if the selectors decide to embrace youth; Mohammad Sami another if they opt for experience.

In that context, Cook's century was all the more impressive. For it was not just the runs Cook scored that mattered, but that he soon calculated what a good score was on this surface and ensured England reached that target. Such precise judgement is not easy to acquire. It was telling that his 118-ball century contained 59 dot balls. In some circumstances that would suggest an inability to manoeuvre the ball but here, on a slow pitch, it demonstrated a cool head and an impressive ability to read the game. Indeed, it represented good leadership. Cook is growing into the role of captain and opening batsman by the day. He has proved many doubters wrong.

"From about 25 overs into our innings, I thought that 250 was a good score," Cook said. "Maybe we should have scored 260-265 from the position we were in, but in the past England teams might have tried to score 280 and been bowled out for 220. If it had turned out that 250 was not a good score, it would have been my fault."

Cook credited the improvement in his ODI form to a period in the county game. "When I was out of the England ODI side, I knew that if wanted to play one-day cricket for England I had to improve," he said. "I had to score quicker. That's what I went to work on with Graham Gooch and the Essex boys. The experience I gained playing those two years for Essex - especially a year-and-a-half playing T20 cricket for Essex - forced me to expand my game and helped me realise what I could do. I'd love to be in the T20 side, too, but it's a totally different format and I'm not in it at the moment." In form like this, however, it is quite possible Cook could be added to the squad.

There was, at least, an encouraging sight off the field from a Pakistan perspective. The Pakistan and Indian ambassadors to the UAE watched the game together and, it is understood, talked in broad terms about the possibility of a series between the sides, quite possibly in the UAE and with an aspirational date of 2013. Both ambassadors will now report back to their respective governments before more formal talks take place.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Sharon on February 18, 2012, 18:55 GMT

    @g.narsimha on (February 18 2012, 05:38 AM GMT) what dominant force?!?!? India were NEVER a "dominant force"!!! So, you are calling England beating South Africa IN South Africa in 2004/5 and England beating Australia IN Australia 2010/11 NOT dominant!!! So what then is dominant? India have NEVER beaten either Aus or SA away in their whole history - so how can this India performance be a "dominant" performance? Since when is NOT WINNING considered to be dominant? And now, in the last 9 months India has been found to be completely and utterly wanting whitewashed not once but TWICE in Test matches outside of India. @g.narsimha you can live on what you consider to be the past "glories" of India Not winning anything away against top test match sides if you like carry on by all means. I don't know why you are here to remind us of India inability away from home. This is Pak V Eng forum it has nothing to do with India and it's "past glories". Take them elsewhere. Please publish.

  • narsimha on February 18, 2012, 5:38 GMT

    VALAVAN-I cant understand ur arguments if winning a sole t20 is big achievement in the last 2 decades u can cherish it. u have asked how many matches INDIA WON in 2011 in ENG & in AUS yes none but at the same time where did ENG white washed INDIA the ANSWER AGAIN IN ENG so in that analogy ENG can only beat in ENG that too after a decade as we won in 07n , drew in 02 & won odi series in all previous tours agreed we had 2 white washes, on same lines u too had 2 white washes first in IND 5-0 , now in uae than what is the big issue , stats availaBLE IN THIS VERY SITE PROVE that we are the dominant forcre in home &away during the last 2 decades baring recent home wins u have nothing , after 3-0, in tests , 5-0 in odis it is proved u r worse than INDIA in outside eng , pl counter me with stats not with one home win , ur coments on our batsmen are not apriciated , we never comented on ur bowlers , batters in this way , but they dont need certificates as they proved their class erlier

  • sudarshan on February 17, 2012, 7:46 GMT

    cook's transformation has splendid... cook has given a slap on the faces of hte critics... both of his two hundreds match winning....!!!!

  • Valavan on February 17, 2012, 6:57 GMT

    @gerard periera, haha laughing stock but still you lost the T20 in India and giving Diwali excuse, btw how many matches did india win in england in 2011. Just before England visited India, how many indian players ran away, Gambhir, Harbhajan and so called Viv richards (Sehwag, haha call him richards when he plays in india) who said he is fit before the 3rd test after bagging king pair he said he was not ready. Broad had injury and now bresnan had injury, we stuck to rotation policy so thats why anderson rested, not like India who justified that THEY CAN NEVER PLAY MOVING BALL, last 8 test losses completely justified that. You can write your Billion excuses in this forum or any forum or howl more, INDIA is just a team that can win only at home.cricinfo please publish.

  • Chris on February 17, 2012, 1:09 GMT

    @passionate_cricket_follower - don't worry about Cook getting dropped from ODIs like Laxman was. Unlike Laxman he's the captain - given expectations of English ODI performance, they'd have to start losing consistently to Bangladesh and Ireland (no sniggers at the back) for anybody to consider dropping him as captain before the next WC. In any case, you just have to check the respective stats - you have to really cherry pick Laxman's to find a period when he got near Cook's average as captain, and he was never anywhere near Cook's current strike rate. In fact Cook has the highest average EVER for a captain opening the batting in more than 10 matches, and amongst the top few for strike rate.

  • Cricket on February 16, 2012, 22:57 GMT

    Looks like Misbah has taken a special liking for White-washes. If you can't inflict it on your opposition, then accept it. But White-wash it must be. That way the records look clean. No Complications, no mess. simple straigth forward thinking. May be Misbah will make some sort of record about white washes.

  • Dummy4 on February 16, 2012, 18:34 GMT

    Afridi once again played a really horrible ugly swipe at a time when Pakistan seemed to be in control of the run rate. That was very stupid and irresponsible of him esp. knowing full well that there was n't much batting to come after him ... brainless to the core (with the bat. I admire Afridi the bowler). One could also argue that Umar Akmal's shot too was unnecessary esp. as he had just hit the previous ball to the boundary. Like Afridi, Umar does not use his brain when batting

    Does one really need to slog when the RRR is 7.0? Sensible batting, milking singles and twos with the odd boundary here and there does it most times

    But Pakistan are not helping themselves by playing test players - Asad, Azhar, Younis and Misbah (can afford to play one of them but not both) in ODI.

    Umar Akmal should NOT be batting at # 6! He is being turned into a slogger, which he is not. He has immense talent and his talent should be used at number 4 or 5. At that number he can play his natural game.

  • Dummy4 on February 16, 2012, 18:31 GMT

    richardror: Yep ! England's B team that looked pretty much like the A team played India"s D team, "yawn" and still got whitewashed . Guys like Anderson and Broad opted out, faking injuries, the nightmare thrashings handed out by world beaters Ireland and Bangladesh in the world cup still fresh in their minds.

  • Dummy4 on February 16, 2012, 18:24 GMT

    dmqi: Are you for real ODIs and tests are two different formats. Bowling restrictions, fielding restrictions, power plays all render guys like Ajmal and Rehman as not so effective in the ODI format (ten overs each pal). Take away Cooke's two hundreds and bearing in mind he was dropped by Akmal on 27 in the second ODI and England's batting looks just as pathetic as it was in the test matches.

  • Dummy4 on February 16, 2012, 15:40 GMT

    I can think of a worse keeper than Umar Akmal...> Kamran Akmal. Neither of whom are even the best keeper in their family.

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