Pakistan v England, 3rd ODI, Dubai February 19, 2012

Squad could go on to better things

While this series win does not make England immediate favourites for the next World Cup, it does show that England are progressing into a highly skilled ODI team

Short of stumbling upon hidden treasure or a formula for ever-lasting life, it is hard to conceive of a way that the third ODI could have gone much better from an England perspective.

It was not just that England won. It was that they confirmed their dominance over Pakistan by wrapping up the four-match series with a game to play; their captain underlined his newly acquired status as a fine ODI cricketer; their young fast bowler again demonstrated his class; and their star player returned to form following a lean period. England's cup was overflowing with encouragement.

This win does not mean England should suddenly be considered favourites for the next World Cup or that all their problems are resolved. But, after the 5-0 whitewash they suffered in India before Christmas, it does suggest progress.

On the surface, it would seem to mark an abrupt turn of fortunes for both these sides. There were concerns after their 3-0 drubbing in the Test series, that an England team struggling for form and confidence might be thrashed in the ODI series. Instead, led from the front by their captain, they achieved only their second series victory in Asia since 1987 (in series excluding Bangladesh and involving just two nations) and their first away series win (again, excluding Bangladesh) since defeating South Africa at the end of 2009. While England's record in home conditions was good, their record outside the UK was modest.

But perhaps we should not be too surprised. Since Alastair Cook was appointed captain, England have won series against India and Sri Lanka at home and only been beaten by India away. When Cook was appointed England's ODI captain, he accepted that it would take time to change the fortunes of a side that had recently suffered early elimination in the World Cup and warned that there were be "some hiccups on the way". The series in India was certainly a hiccup but, four major series into Cook's leadership, it is possible to trace improvement.

England may well have developed the nucleus of a squad that could go on to bigger and better things. The likes of Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes could be pushing for inclusion in a battling line-up that has performed well here, while the likes of Tim Bresnan will be pushing for inclusion in a bowling line-up that has performed very impressively. That represents a strong squad.

But the greatest success has been the form of the captain. Cook has not just ground out runs as is routinely described. He has timed the ball beautifully, hit the ball with power and scored at a rate of 88.36. He looked every inch a top ODI opener and has surely ended, once and for all, the debate over his position in the side. Had he scored just 20 more runs, he would have become just the fifth man - and the first England player - to register three successive ODI centuries.

Their fielding has been pedestrian, their spinners quiet, the seamers disappointing and the batsmen underperforming
Dobell on Pakistan

Steven Finn, too, has established himself as a fine international bowler. For the third game in succession, he bowled with pace, skill and control and has built on the progress he showed in India. It is increasingly hard to see how England will be able to omit him from any team in any format before long.

And then there is Kevin Pietersen. This was Pietersen's eighth ODI hundred but his first since 2008. He was magnificent in this innings: confident; powerful; brave. It was a reminder of the wonderful player that helped England win the only global trophy they have yet lifted - the World T20 of 2010 - and of the player that was once rated the finest ODI player in the world. One innings - however good - does not prove he is back to his best but proves he is capable of such heights. Aged 32, there is no reason why Pietersen's best should not be in front of him.

"I said I didn't feel as if I was out of form," Pietersen said afterwards. "I didn't know it had been three-and-a-half-years since my last century - that's a long time ago - but I felt very calm. I didn't feel I had a point to prove to anyone. I understand that, if I don't score runs, I'll be criticised and that is fine. I'm very thick skinned.

"ODI hundreds are very hard to get, so when you get them you enjoy them. But to win for England means more to me. This ranks right up there with the best ODI series wins I've experienced. Pakistan are a fantastic team and, after being hammered in India, this is a good place to be."

Cook, meanwhile, praised the spirit of his England team. "We showed character to turn things around," he said, referring to the 3-0 loss in the Test series. "When you lose three in a row, you have every right to be down on yourself but we fronted up. It doesn't mean we've learned all the lessons from India, but it does mean we might be making some progress."

Such a victory requires context. Pakistan were strangely off-colour in this series. That a team that could be so impressive in the Test series could look so anaemic in the ODI series is hard to understand. Their fielding has been at best pedestrian and at worst ragged and their batting has been fragile. While their spinners remained quiet, the seamers disappointed. With the batsmen underperforming, it has proved impossible to balance the side.

In the first two games, at least, there were mitigating factors. They had lost the toss and were obliged to bat under lights. Here, batting first, they were simply outplayed. They were bowled out in all three of these games and have reached 250 only three times in their last 28 ODIs. The England attack is good, certainly, but Pakistan's batting clearly needs strengthening.

"Confidence is a big thing for players," Misbah-ul-Haq said. "You can see by the way they are playing that the England batsmen, as they are getting used to our bowlers and the conditions, are playing with more confidence. All credit to them."

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Sharon on February 22, 2012, 7:04 GMT

    @JG2704 on (February 21 2012, 23:01 PM GMT) @valavan is hard core England fan. He is trying to be sarcasm I think. Meanwhile @Satish Viswanathan grinds his Indian axe and chews his sour grapes... it is so funny to see when "ODI World Champs" India are getting pasted yet again away from home. By Sri Lanka this time.

  • John on February 21, 2012, 23:01 GMT

    @Valavan on (February 20 2012, 22:11 PM GMT) re "we as indian fans dont merit ODIs" eh? @Satish Viswanathan on (February 20 2012, 08:58 AM GMT) You're absolutely right. One England player states a preference for ODIs to be scrapped and that means the whole side and the whole nation think along the same lines? And it is unlikely that Swann will call for tests to be scrapped because if he was as you portray him he'd have done so already. Still good to see that you people remain so humble and dignified when your team is on top of its game.

  • Sharon on February 21, 2012, 21:58 GMT

    Ho ho @Satish Viswanathan on (February 20 2012, 08:58 AM GMT) are you sure that India do not "whinge and behave like spolit school kids"? You need to look again at India team on the field lately. Kohli putting up the middle finger, lots of carrying on in the latest game against Australia. There is plenty of evidence that suggest opposite to what you say.

  • Sharon on February 20, 2012, 22:43 GMT

    @Sports4Youth on (February 20 2012, 09:37 AM GMT) - you have made mistake of comparing ODI form to Test form. His Test form is outstanding, if you don't believe it - just ask an Australian. He also smash Indian for 294 runs in 3rd Test match Birmingham - 70 more runs than whole India team put together. Morgan also hit 100 in that match. Now he hits ODI hundreds for fun against Pakistan.

  • Valavan on February 20, 2012, 22:11 GMT

    @Satish Viswanathan, this aint worser than sehwag, gambhir yawning for home tests to show their capaboility. we as indian fans dont merit ODIs, its just a bonus and we are happy they perform after test drubbing, BTW WC 2015 is in Australia, so its reasonable to think of winning WC, we want to win an ODI WC same as other teams, so none spoke about scrapping ODIs. cricinfo please publish.

  • John on February 20, 2012, 10:25 GMT

    @usmanHM on (February 19 2012, 14:29 PM GMT) Who is saying that England are number 1 in ODIs just because we beat Pakistan. Yes if we're going on the recent form then Pakistan are a much better test team than England. However look at the test series results from both teams from the last 3 years or even last 2 years and the quality of teams each has played. Look at common opponents and how each team did against those opponents. I'm not going to start giving it all the rubbish like "Wait until you visit England" because that's sour grapes and disrespectful towards team Pakistan , just like you are being towards England for winning the ODIs. I would much prefer to have scraped the test series than win the OD series by whitewash - but how about a little respect. Our fans aren't trying to snipe/rub it in aor say it's a revenge mission so why be so grudgeful. Please publush ESPN

  • Cricket on February 20, 2012, 9:37 GMT

    No doubt Cook is a good batsman, but not as good as the ODI figures show. The same Cook managed only one good score of 90+ in the 3 tests series. In the ODI's he has been largely helped by poor captaincy by Misbah and an absoluetly lackluster Gul. Also the poor fielding and wicket keeping helped him.

  • Dummy4 on February 20, 2012, 8:58 GMT

    How times change! The same English side wanted ODIs scrapped after the drubbing in India.Now they consider themselves well placed to win the WC in 2015.Will Graeme Swann call for tests to be scrapped after they get hammered in Sri Lanka & India? India might be no good while playing overseas.But we dont whinge about the format and behave like spolit school kids.

  • Jackie on February 20, 2012, 0:26 GMT

    Pakistan have been woeful in the field. Cook apart who has batted beautifully, this has helped the England batsmen to better scores. Bopara was let off twice before he reached 2 in the first ODI. Morgan was dropped yesterday. KP was dropped on 48. Which was fortunate for KP because his first 50 was really flakey. Can Dobell really liken the KP of today with the player of yesteryear? I thought KP could have been dismissed many times over and looked ungainly. After his 50 he began to show us something of the old KP. But the truth is a better side would not have dropped him.

  • John on February 19, 2012, 21:30 GMT

    @Joninnorwich on (February 19 2012, 11:01 AM GMT) take your points on board there. I actually feel that some of England's batsmen looked absolutely psyched out by Ajmal and Rehman in the tests whereas they looked a lot more at ease in the ODI's esp in the 2nd and 3rd. I realise that they may revert to type when they play SL in the test matches but I hope they don't.

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