Pakistan v England, 5th ODI, Rawalpindi December 21, 2005

England finish with a sparkle

It had been a while since James Anderson has played a major role in an England win © Getty Images
Finally, a little seasonal cheer for England with a face-saving performance which at least means this series has not been without its uses. They have top and tailed the one-day section of the tour with two performances which show what they are really capable of. Regardless of the dead nature of the match, in the bigger picture this effort threw up some performances which offer promise for the future.

The major bonus for England was that they managed to defend 206 without Andrew Flintoff, who played purely as a batsman after feeling some pain in his left ankle. Beyond Steve Harmison the attack consisted of a seamer searching for his lost confidence, a young rookie, and England's latest attempt at a spin bowling duo.

James Anderson has got better as the series has progressed. With each wicket the scowl which has accompanied him for much of the last two winters has become more reminiscent of the smile that graced the early part of his international career. If England get to the stage in future tournaments where they are playing Pakistan, Anderson should be a shoe-in; this was his third four-wicket haul against them, including a hat-trick at The Oval in 2003.

Anderson on-form and confident offers England many options. His first spell produced menacing swing with the new ball, while he showed commendable variation at the death as his slower balls and yorkers remained largely on target. However, with Simon Jones pencilled in for a one-day return when he is back to full fitness, Anderson is now set to spend the next phase of his career fighting for a spot with Liam Plunkett who has been, without doubt, the real cracker to emerge from the tour.

His late flurry of 24 off 12 balls showed he has the late-order hitting abilities of a Brett Lee or Shaun Pollock, which will have delighted Duncan Fletcher in his never-ending search for multi-dimensional players. Plunkett has shown character - another Fletcher 'must-have' - throughout the tour and produced a series of telling yorkers at the death. Darren Gough's won't just be merrily dancing back into the team.

England's spinners have never threatened to compete with their Pakistan counterparts throughout the two month trip, but here they at least managed to make use of helpful conditions. Shaun Udal produced the vital breakthrough, then Ian Blackwell collected the wickets his previous efforts in the series had deserved as the Pakistan middle order uncharacteristically lost their cool.

It is strange what small totals do a team. On Monday, England blew their chance to chase a similarly light-looking total of 210 and this time Pakistan came undone when some level-headedness was the order of the day. However, the defeat won't take too much gloss off the series triumph and, having wrapped it up two days ago, they took the chance to have a look at a couple of fringe players.

Coming into a confident, winning team is always easier and here Hameed and Mohammad Asif slotted in for Pakistan. Asif destroyed England's Test match line-up playing for the A team in the game that preceded the first Test and set into motion the batting jitters that would remain for the rest of the tour. The 10 for 106 in that match kept his name in the selector's notebooks and it took him just three balls to remove Marcus Trescothick, for the third time on tour, to settle the nerves and get the crowd behind him.

Strength in depth is a key factor for any team that aspires to be consistently successful and Hameed showed Pakistan have batting resources to match their bowling riches. When a team is winning it is all about grabbing your chance when it comes along and Hameed was right at home before a rush of blood spoilt his effort.

As England head home to enjoy their Christmas dinner they can reflect on a tour that has given plenty of food for thought. It has been a shock to the system after the heady heights of that late-summer day in September, and some tough lessons have been learnt - but at least 2005 has finished on a winning note.

Andrew McGlashan is editorial assistant of Cricinfo