Pietersen the difference, once again

Kevin Pietersen guided England to a matchwinning total Associated Press

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.