In the past eight months, Alastair Cook has come to dispel doubts as if they were pesky flies. No sooner does he swat them away with a confident flourish than back they come buzzing around him, peskier than ever.
He gave them such a hefty swipe last night that he might, just, have seen them off for good. An innings of 137 from 142 balls in the Sheikh Zayed Stadium was the perfect repellent.
It was further confirmation of Cook's astonishing, if grudgingly acknowledged, progress as a one-day opening batsman, and quite as crucially set England on their way to a considerable victory by 130 runs in the first one-day international against Pakistan. It was Cook's third one-day hundred, his second as captain – and as captain, he desperately needed this after losing five matches on the trot to India last October.
With Steve Finn then bowling an irresistibly quick opening spell, England had a start to the series of which few presumed they were capable. They had lost the Test series 3-0 to these opponents and one-day cricket is not exactly their strongest suit.
If Cook, by force of character and the sort of obdurate streak which is merely entrenched by others' scepticism, has become an authentic limited-overs batsman, then Finn has ascended to the status of true fast bowler. It cannot be long before he is a first choice in the Test team and not merely the next cab on the rank.
Together the pair's performances were instrumental to England taking a lead in the four-match series despite another mesmerising exhibition from Saeed Ajmal, who continued to hex his opponents with figures of 5 for 43. It was a much-awaited win, only the team's second in 11 matches in all forms of the game.
Cook said: "It's always good to start off the series well but as part of this tour to play as close to our potential as we did then which we haven't done so far, is really pleasing.
"We all know the fickle world of cricket. I've always said that as captain you are judged by results and we didn't play very well in India and I take responsibility. Today was a good day and we needed a win on tour."
Without his obvious sense of purpose, England's innings might easily have foundered. Cook swept and nudged, prodded and nurdled, always with an eye on keeping the board ticking over, and when he was in danger of going quiet he usually found a boundary from somewhere.
He hit 14 fours in all, compared to eight from all his colleagues, half when the chase was on at the end and half from Ravi Bopara, with whom Cook shared a third-wicket partnership of 131 from 147 balls. The stand was a reconstruction of foundations before it became a platform for a respectable total.
There were the vestiges of trouble for England when they lost two wickets in successive balls to Shahid Afridi in the 13th over. Kevin Pietersen was bowled through the gate, misjudging the line of a leg spinner to end a tortured stay.
Pietersen has been promoted to open the innings in the hope that it will help him to return to his days of yore but 14 from 36 balls in the significant early powerplay overs did not represent that. It is possible that Pietersen was still coming to terms with it all at the top of the order, possible he was disconcerted by Pakistan's cunning plan to open with a seamer at one end and a spinner at the other.
This move, based on little more than a hunch because he has not exactly been firing at No 4, has to reap dividends soon. Pietersen is genuinely excited about it but that alone will not guarantee success.
Jonathan Trott was bowled first ball by Afridi's googly, not the first England batsman on this tour to be deceived by flight. In came Bopara facing a hat-trick and a mini-crisis. Those who do not doubt Cook tend to doubt Bopara, but he responded admirably, playing solidly in defence and taking no unnecessary risks, which is the art of batsmanship in the middle overs, not least against wily spin of which Pakistan had plenty.
When Bopara was out midway through the batting powerplay, England's innings was in danger of stultifying. Cook continued at nearly a run a ball but with almost four overs left he was out, ironically to the sweep stroke which had been so profitable for him. It was left to Graeme Swann and Samit Patel, smart cricketers both, to ensure England had a total they were sure they could defend as opposed to one that Pakistan were certain was attainable. The margin between these two figures is often slender.
With the flying Finn in rampant mood it was academic. None of England's wickets fell to seam, Pakistan's first four did so. Finn had Mohammad Hafeez and Asad Shafiq both lbw in successive balls, the latter beaten for pace by a ball travelling at more than 90mph. Before the 10th over was out, Younis Khan and Imran Farhat were both caught behind, Craig Kieswetter diving full length to his left to take a ripsnorter to send back Younis.
That really was that. The rest was an uneven procession in which Patel took three wickets and Swann two and the series had the beginning it craved.
Facts in figures
12 It was only England's second win in their last 12 matches
5-43 Pakistan's Saeed Ajmal kept up his fine form with another five-for performance against England
14 Fours hit by Alastair Cook in England's first ton of the tour
131 England's third-wicket partnership between Cook and Ravi Bopara
Abu Dhabi: Scoreboard
First one-day international: England beat Pakistan by 130 runs
England won toss
Runs 6s 4s Bls Min
*A N Cook b Ajmal 137 0 14 142 186
K P Pietersen b Afridi 14 0 1 36 51
I J L Trott b Afridi 0 0 0 1 0
R S Bopara st Akmal b Ajmal 50 0 4 69 91
E J G Morgan lbw b Ajmal 2 0 0 8 8
†C Kieswetter c Riaz b Ajmal 9 0 0 19 21
S R Patel not out 17 0 2 12 23
S C J Broad c & b Ajmal 1 0 0 2 1
G P Swann not out 13 0 2 12 14
Extras (b1 lb10 w5 nb1) 17
Total (for 7, 50 overs) 260
Fall: 1-57, 2-57, 3-188, 4-196, 5-221, 6-230, 7-232.
Did not bat J M Anderson, S T Finn.
Bowling Umar Gul 8-0-53-0, Mohammad Hafeez 10-1-30-0, Shahid Afridi 10-0-55-2, Saeed Ajmal 10-0-43-5, Wahab Riaz 7-0-47-0, Shoaib Malik 5-0-21-0.
Runs 6s 4s Bls Min
Mohammad Hafeez lbw b Finn 5 0 1 11 9
Imran Farhat c Kieswetter b Finn 10 0 1 16 42
Asad Shafiq lbw b Finn 0 0 0 1 0
Younis Khan c Kieswetter b Finn 15 0 2 18 18
* Misbah-ul-Haq lbw b Patel 14 0 1 29 37
†Umar Akmal st Kieswetter b Swann 22 0 1 39 76
Shoaib Malik c Pietersen b Patel 7 0 1 23 25
Shahid Afridi c Swann b Patel 28 0 4 22 24
Umar Gul lbw b Swann 2 0 0 10 12
Saeed Ajmal c Cook b Broad 5 0 0 22 29
Wahab Riaz not out 8 0 1 20 19
Extras (lb2 w7 nb5) 14
Total (35 overs) 130
Fall 1-11, 2-11, 3-27, 4-40, 5-53, 6-68, 7-96, 8-109, 9-113.
Bowling S T Finn 10-1-34-4, J M Anderson 6-0-24-0, S C J Broad 6-2-21-1, S R Patel 5-1-26-3, R S Bopara 1-0-4-0, G P Swann 7-3-19-2.
Umpires S J A Taufel (Aus) and Zameer Haider (Pak).Reuse content