Pakistan v England, 3rd Twenty20, Abu Dhabi February 27, 2012

Pietersen the difference, once again

England's tour of the UAE came to a gripping conclusion after what has been an important period for the game

Perhaps it was fitting that this tour should end with England's batsmen struggling for fluency against Pakistan's spinners. On the pitch where England suffered their tour nadir - dismissed for just 72 in the second Test a few weeks ago - batting again proved desperately difficult against the host's spinners.

It was fitting, too, that this game should be decided by the final delivery. Despite the score lines on this tour - a whitewash to Pakistan in the Test series and a whitewash to England in the ODI series - there is little to choose between these sides. Both are fine but flawed teams with some way to way to go on the road of progress.

On this occasion, however, England prevailed. As a consequence they took the Twenty20 series 2-1. Coming on the heels of their 4-0 ODI series victory, it was redemption of sorts after losing the Test series 3-0.

While it would be tempting to credit England's bowlers with this victory, it would not tell the whole story.

England's bowlers certainly produced an excellent performance here, but there is nothing new in that. They have performed exceptionally well all tour, but it was to prove to no avail as their team lost the Test series.

The difference, here and throughout much of the limited-overs series, has been the form of Kevin Pietersen. After his struggles in the Tests, where he averaged just 11.16, Pietersen has been quite magnificent during the limited-overs leg of the tour. Here he batted right the way through the England innings and underlined his return to form with an unbeaten innings of 62 on a pitch where all other batsmen struggled. To say that his contribution dwarfed that of his colleagues would be an understatement: the next highest score was just 17.

The questions asked about Pietersen midway through this tour were valid. He looked unrecognisable from the masterful player that led England to the World T20 and No.1 in the Test rankings. He was low on confidence with a technique in tatters.

The important thing is Pietersen answered all those questions. He adapted his technique, he worked hard and he overcame what he rated as the toughest challenge of his career. Perhaps he still has a point to prove in subcontinent Tests, but in this form, few would bet against him.

There were many key moments in this game: the last ball full toss in the England innings that Pietersen thrashed for six; the four wides (five runs) that Umar Gul donated when he attempted to cramp Pietersen for room; the impetus added by Samit Patel's cameo innings; Jos Buttler's pick-up and throw that helped run out the fluent Asad Shafiq; the nerveless penultimate over delivered by Stuart Broad and Jonny Bairstow's superb throw that defeated a labouring Shahid Afridi.

Most pertinently, however, England held their nerve and Pakistan did not. Pakistan required only 23 from the final 18 balls with seven wickets in hand. It should have been easy; instead it was a nightmare.

Some in Pakistan will blame Misbah-ul-Haq for this loss. They will criticise his somewhat ponderous batting and it will fuel their calls for Shahid Afridi to be reappointed as captain. The pressure on Misbah may well become unbearable in the coming weeks.

It is true, too, that Misbah must take some responsibility for the result. He batted for 12-and-a-half overs, only found the boundary twice (once through a misfield) and must accept that he misjudged the pace of Pakistan's chase. His side are fast gaining a reputation as 'chokers'; it is not completely unwarranted.

But he was far from alone in failing with the bat. Umar Akmal betrayed his inexperience with a reckless heave; Afridi simply did not look fit enough for a quick two and Mohammad Hafeez, for all the excellent influence he clearly has on this team and his usefulness as a bowler, has barely contributed with the bat for some time. Pakistan won the Test series as a team; they failed in the limited-overs series as a team. It would not be constructive for all the failings of the Pakistan team to be heaped upon Misbah's shoulders.

He had few answers afterwards. "Full credit to the England bowlers," he said. "They bowled very well. But it was not [a] difficult [chase]. [We had] 18 balls to get 23 runs and we had wickets in hand." When they come to reflect, however, Pakistan will surely conclude that their bowlers have performed to an extremely high standard throughout, but that their batting and fielding must improve.

England - and specifically their batsmen - have certainly improved over the course of the tour. But while Broad, captain in the T20 format, took pleasure in that, he admitted that limited-overs victories were no substitute for Test success.

"This doesn't make up for losing the Tests," Broad said. "We came here to prove ourselves in the subcontinent and we didn't do that. But we did show character and we do leave on a high. It also gives us a lot of confidence with the next World T20 in the subcontinent."

Pietersen agreed. "It was an exceptional end [to the tour] and a slow start," he said. "Full credit to the bowlers who have bowled brilliantly all the way through. I do believe we're on our way to fixing our problems against spin in the sub-continent.

It will be of little consolation in the short-term, but perhaps, in time, Pakistan can also take comfort in the fact that all the key memories of this tour are cricket related: the spin bowling of Saeed Ajmal and Abdur Rehman; Younis Khan's gorgeous century; Azhar Ali's defiance. From an England perspective they might be the successful comeback of Monty Panesar, the return to form of Pietersen and Alastair Cook and the rude wake-up call that their batsmen received at the hands of Pakistan's spinners.

The important thing is that they are all cricket memories. Bearing in mind the context in which this tour began, that is no mean achievement. Series between these two countries have been strained for some years; this one has been fiercely competitive but good spirited. The various captains involved - all four of them - deserve much credit for that.

Some things - many things, actually - are more important than winning and losing. After the damage inflicted to our beautiful game during the last series between these sides, this was the encounter that the game required. Hopefully, when results and performances are dissected over the coming weeks and months, that bigger picture will not be forgotten.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • John on February 29, 2012, 10:26 GMT

    @GreatWhitePathan on (February 28 2012, 11:58 AM GMT) Didn't Bopara score a 50 in the 1st 2 ODIs. In the 3rd ODI only 3 batsmen took to the crease with Morgan remaining not out so how could any batsmen do anything more in that one. Also our bowling unit as a whole performed well (Finn exceptional) in the ODIs and they did in the tests. To me your remarks are very small minded and would be like me saying without Rehman and Ajmal Pak would not have won the tests. Fact is Eng had KP and Cook and Pak had Ajmal,Rehman.

  • Dummy4 on February 29, 2012, 8:02 GMT

    Misbah was the real difference

  • John on February 29, 2012, 4:21 GMT

    @GreatWhitePathan, are you talking about the third Test, where two Pakistani batsmen scored 280 runs in one innings and the other 20 batsmen in both innings scored 180? Not that it makes a jot of difference now but, had Swann not dropped Azhar Ali, England may well have won that match. They lost by about the same number of runs as he scored after that drop. I'm not trying to say that England should have won that game or any other but I am saying that you are slack for trying to say that Pakistan's wins were somehow better than England's.

  • Mazhar on February 28, 2012, 17:34 GMT

    mattymatty.. really ? so sad...

  • John on February 28, 2012, 15:04 GMT

    @OhhhMattyMatty on (February 27 2012, 22:24 PM GMT) They beat us 3-0 in the test series which was the one that really mattered. Why gloat about winning the T20s and ODIs esp when Pak fans haven't gloated about the test series win?

  • Yasser on February 28, 2012, 11:58 GMT

    If you assess the tour as a whole, the victories that Pakistan achieved were a total team performances where all the batsmen and bowlers contributed at different points in the series. If you assess England's victories, their bowling was excellent but ONLY two batsmen performed: Cook and Pietersen. Without their runs, England would have won nothing. The ODI and T20 victories should not overshadow that fact. Although Sri Lanka dont have the same quality bowling attack as Pakistan, they have a much stronger batting line up and I think England will struggle badly. Ajantha Mendis (who has been routinely hammered by Pakistan and India over the past few years) will be recalled against England and Sri Lanka will no doubt find other spinners to trouble England. The Sri Lanka tour will finish England's claims of being the number 1 test team in the world.

  • David on February 28, 2012, 11:50 GMT

    Couldn't agree more with you George. Cricket is the ultimate winner and this tour has brightened up my winter here in England. Thanks to the Pakistan supporters for their knowledgable and intelligent comments on these boards. I have enjoyed reading them. I wish you and your team every success in the future and I look forward to a time when international cricket will return to your homeland.

  • Salman on February 28, 2012, 11:37 GMT

    @Matty You are being hilarious in equating a 5-day Test triumph with a 20-over masala match! Test Series is the rel deal, not masala slam-bang single-day limited over matches. Anyways, well played England.

  • Dummy4 on February 28, 2012, 10:59 GMT

    it never ceases to amaze me how little people understand this beautiful game. It was not he manner of the slow batting by Pakistan, but the nature of the Pich- it was a slow ptch , as underlined by the difficult batting that England had to endure. Just coz it wasnt massive scores it was enthralling to the last ball- well done to both teams for Entertaining

  • Dummy4 on February 28, 2012, 9:27 GMT

    Mr Dobell, sir. Wish you and other correspondents as clinical had been around in the 80s to deliver swift kicks to deserving players. Pietersen to his very great credit has responded excellently. Wonder how players such as Gower and Botham, players who seemed completely indifferent to periods of lacklustre performances, would have reacted.

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