Alastair Cook century helps England thrash Pakistan


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The Independent Online

Alastair Cook and Steven Finn's career-best performances carried England to an emphatic, and overdue, win over Pakistan.

Cook (137) near single-handedly chiselled out a competitive total of 260 for seven in the first one-day international at the Zayed Stadium.

Then Finn (four for 34), kept waiting throughout a 3-0 Test series defeat against these same opponents, returned with a vengeance to take the first four wickets as Pakistan made it only half-way under lights - collapsing to 130 all out in 35 overs.

Finn's was the eyecatching display of a fast bowler with world-class potential in all formats.

But it was down to Cook - who approached a run-a-ball tempo almost throughout his 142-ball stay, while others failed to come close - that his bowlers had the right stage to strut their stuff.

Cook's third ODI century gave his team a chance to at last break their duck against Pakistan this winter, and that opportunity was significantly enhanced once Finn struck with successive balls in his second over.

He pinned first Mohammad Hafeez, and then Asad Shafiq, lbw with express pace and dead-eyed direction.

Finn's third wicket came in his fourth over, this time with some snaking movement into the bat and an outstanding catch by diving wicketkeeper Craig Kieswetter off Younus Khan's inside edge.

Kieswetter needed to be less agile, and merely competent, to complete the next dismissal when Imran Farhat got a faint outside edge to give Finn four in an ODI for the first time.

England were already on course for only their second win in their last 11 international attempts - and with Misbah-ul-Haq, Shoaib Malik and Umar Akmal soon gone to Samit Patel (three for 26) and Graeme Swann's spin, it was merely a case of how long Shahid Afridi's swashbuckling defiance might last.

Despite being dropped by Patel when he skied Swann to the midwicket boundary, even he did not worry England for long. Yet without their captain, it might have been another sorry tale for the tourists as Saeed Ajmal - one of their nemeses in the Test whitewash - had finished with five for 43 after Cook chose to bat first on a fair pitch.

Prospects looked far from promising, for example, when Cook and Ravi Bopara (50) joined forces for a third-wicket stand of 131 after Kevin Pietersen and Jonathan Trott had been clean-bowled by successive balls from Afridi.

Pietersen's return to opening the innings resulted in a laboured 14 from 36 balls as off-spinner Hafeez proved hard to get away.

Cook needed DRS, on 30, to overturn Simon Taufel's lbw decision which was confounded by Hotspot's indication of a big inside edge against Hafeez.

But there was no such refuge for Pietersen when he missed a leg-break in Afridi's second over. Trott then never managed to put bat on ball, groping at a variation delivery from Afridi which snaked through the gate.

Bopara kept out the hat-trick ball but endured a decidedly nervy next five minutes.

Hafeez might have had him stumped on one, and then Afridi should have had him lbw on two when Ahsan Raza unaccountably turned one down that appeared to hit the batsman on the back pad in front of middle-stump.

Bopara's sticky start contributed to a statistic which revealed, Cook apart, England had mustered only 22 runs off the bat in the first 22 overs.

But the Essex pair served their country very well for 25 overs until Bopara went on the charge again and was stumped this time, off Ajmal.

The off-spinner took the next two wickets too, Eoin Morgan missing one of his reverse-hit varieties to be lbw and Kieswetter trying to launch a huge hit which went only as far as short third-man off a thick edge.

Cook was into three figures by then, finding the gaps and release shots with his favoured sweeps off spin and cuts off pace to eventually count 14 boundaries. Just 27 runs, and two wickets, nonetheless came from the batting powerplay - and despite Cook's admirable efforts, which ended when he missed a sweep to be bowled by Ajmal, 64 from the last 10 overs was barely par.

But after Finn had his say with the new ball, none of those quibbles amounted to much.