The wheels were not exactly back on Pakistan's tour last night after they lost the first match of the NatWest series against England. But at least there was less sense of a vehicle careering towards the edge of a mountain.
Whether they will be able to bring it under control sufficiently to win any of the four matches left before a merciful end is called to proceedings is still doubtful. Improved in spirit and application though the tourists were, they were defeated by 24 runs.
Their pursuit of 275 to win from 41 overs – the match having been reduced after a long delay caused by overnight rain – had its moments. But they were invariably behind the required rate, lost wickets when they needed to keep them and left themselves far too much to do.
It was almost routine for England, who would be relieved to be playing in front of a full house again. They are beginning to assume the hue of a serious one-day side, contenders wherever they play.
Their substantial innings of 274 for six was built on a platform serenely laid by their new wicketkeeper batsman, Steve Davies. It was one of those innings that come along every so often making it seem as though its creator had been playing the game for years. He made 87 from 67 balls with 13 fours.
In Davies, it was possible to see that England might have found the wicketkeeper-cum-top order one-day batsman for whom they have searched so far and wide. That has been said before, of course.
Of recent vintage, Geraint Jones, Matt Prior and more recently Craig Kieswetter all persuaded the selectors that they had the right man only to be confronted with that old fatal flaw – not enough runs. But Davies came out for his first one-day international at home, the first where he was the first choice and looked a class act.
It was a seamless, compact innings full of sound judgement and wise choices. There were some lovely strokes too, cutting to perfection and clipping through the on side. These are early days and there is no doubt that in this series, Davies is on trial. But if he cuts the mustard now he will be on his way to the World Cup because there will be no time for change.
The biggest surprise was that he got out in the first over after a drinks break. Until he misread a ball from Saeed Ajmal which bounced more than he expected and edged an intended cut behind, a century had looked his for the taking.
By then, England were 153 for two and cruising. Davies and Andrew Strauss, England's 108th opening pair in one-day internationals, had put on 78 by the 12th over, captain Strauss taking full advantage of the power plays.
If Jonathan Trott was less than spectacular he ticked along adequately and Ravi Bopara, chosen ahead of Luke Wright in the pivotal number six slot, was explosive. In England's last one-dayer, against Bangladesh, Bopara had clubbed 45 from 16 balls and yesterday he whacked 35 from 27, including three sixes fetched from outside off-stump with bravura timing.
The suspicion then was that England's score would be all too much for Pakistan, whose equilibrium disappeared long ago. In the event, they did not allow the terms of the match to be dictated quite as most observers might have expected.
Kamran Akmal and Mohammad Hafeez, not the opening partnership they had planned for this series before Salman Butt was suspended, went along happily. Akmal in particular is a joy to watch because he hits the ball so merrily.
Hafeez was first to go, being unfortunate to be at the striker's end for Graeme Swann's first over. Swann has demonstrated in the past 19 months that there is no more dangerous place on earth for batsmen, as time and again he has struck as soon as he has come on, and this was no different. Hafeez struck the first ball for four but was out to the fifth, his top-edged sweep going to deep square leg where Tim Bresnan judged his catch well.
Pakistan stuck to the chase but it was always just out of reach. Kamran had just passed 50 for the first time on tour when became Swann's second victim and though the off-spinner received some harsh treatment to which he has not been accustomed of late, England always did just enough.
Fawad Alam played with verve, Umar Akmal was beginning to move into top gear but was out from the last ball of an over off which he had helped to take 15 runs, newcomer Asad Shafiq struck four successive fours off Bresnan before being bowled by Mike Yardy. The cause became hopeless in the face of a side who exuded competence, but nobody went away thinking they had not seen a proper contest. For which, many thanks.
Riverside Ground: England beat Pakistan by 24 runs
Pakistan won toss
Runs 6s 4s Bls
* A J Strauss b Ajmal 41 2 3 45
S M Davies c Akmal b Ajmal 87 0 13 67
I J L Trott b Ajmal 69 0 4 78
P D Collingwood c Alam b Ajmal 14 1 1 15
E J G Morgan c Akmal b Afridi 13 0 2 11
R S Bopara not out 35 3 0 27
T T Bresnan run out (Umar Akmal)1 0 0 1
M H Yardy not out 1 0 0 2
Extras (b 2, lb 2, w 9)13
Total (6 wkts, 41 overs)274
Fall: 1-78, 2-153, 3-179, 4-205, 5-253, 6-255.
Did Not Bat: S C J Broad, G P Swann, J M Anderson.
Bowling: S Akhtar 8-1-28-0, M Irfan 5.3-0-37-0, U Gul 6-0-67-0, M Hafeez 5-0-28-0, S Ajmal 9-0-58-4, S S M K Afridi 7.3-0-52-1.
Runs 6s 4s Bls
K Akmal c Broad b Swann 53 0 7 61
M Hafeez c Bresnan b Swann 30 0 4 42
M Yousuf lbw b Yardy 8 0 1 13
F Alam c sub b Bresnan 39 0 2 39
U Akmal c Davies b Broad 43 0 6 33
*S S M K Afridi c Swann b Anderson 19 0 1 25
A Shafiq b Yardy 19 0 4 10
U Gul c Morgan b Anderson 18 1 1 12
S Akhtar b Bresnan 0 0 0 1
S Ajmal not out 9 0 1 8
M Irfan not out 3 0 0 5
Extras (lb 1, w 5, nb 3)9
Total (9 wkts, 41 overs)250
Fall: 1-62, 2-82, 3-123, 4-158, 5-191, 6-218, 7-233, 8-238, 9-244.
Bowling: J M Anderson 9-0-35-2, T T Bresnan 8-0-61-2, S C J Broad 8-0-54-1, G P Swann 8-0-50-2, M H Yardy 8-0-49-2.
Umpires: B R Doctrove (WI) & I J Gould (Eng).
TV replay umpire: R A Kettleborough (Eng)
Match referee: J J Crowe (NZ)Reuse content