England are in good order. They are not pitch perfect by any means but they are in tune and appear to be singing from the same song sheet. Those who have seen England as a cacophonous rabble who do not know their arias from their elbows at this stage of some tours will recognise the difference.
After 10 days in the United Arab Emirates, the tourists have won both their matches, the second victory coming yesterday by 100 runs against a Pakistan Cricket Board XI. It was achieved because England wanted to win when they could have used the third day of their final warm-up match merely for batting practice. Once, not so long ago, that is precisely what would have happened.
There was a case for extending Ian Bell's innings and allowing Eoin Morgan another knock simply because both have had indifferent returns so far. Bell's 12 not out from 28 balls yesterday took his tally to 54 runs so far from 109 balls in the middle. Morgan has scored 15 runs from 50 balls in three innings.
If pressed, they would have preferred another opportunity. Nor are they alone in shortage of form. Kevin Pietersen lasted for four balls in making three and now has 57 runs from 127 balls in the two matches. He is a big-game player and soon no doubt he will prove it.
Jonathan Trott, opening the innings in place of Alastair Cook, who has plenty of runs in the bank, did not waste his chance. In making 93 from 150 balls, punishing the bad ball – if not always elegantly – and keeping out the good ball, he reminded observers of, well, Jonathan Trott.
When he was out just before lunch, England declared leaving a target of 251 from 62 overs, which seemed further away when the PCB XI fell to 16 for 3. England may have gained more from pressing for the victory and achieving it. To have seen off their opponents in little more than 50 overs on a wearing pitch was appropriately determined and thoroughly professional.
The outcome threw up some more tantalising questions of selection. There were another three wickets for Monty Panesar, whose 3 for 46 took his haul for the match to 8 for 103, more than superficially better than Graeme Swann's 2 for 73.
Nothing much is wrong with Swann – or at least not yet – that more bowling will not improve. Panesar has made a case for a second spinner but while it is difficult to second-guess selectors who tend to strap their cards to their chest using builders' heavy-duty tape, the feeling is that they will stick to what has taken them this far.
That would still leave the poser of who the third seamer might be, and it ought to have been answered yesterday. The best bowler on show was Chris Tremlett. His figures of 2 for 32 from 10 overs do not seem much to write home about, but as the day went on Tremlett looked increasingly as though he had found his fluency. The action was smooth, he was tall at the crease and crucially he got the odd one to bounce.
Tremlett's most recent Test for England was the first against India at Lord's last summer after which he withdrew from the rest of the series with an injured back. It took its time to heal and when he woke up on his first day here with an eye infection he was forced to miss the opening tour match.
He might have missed the second too but he was keen to play and it proved the right decision. With vision still blurred in his right eye, he wore dark glasses to bowl in and looked like Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry. To regard Tremlett as enforcer, however, would be to misconstrue a gentle character.
"When I put my back out I thought I'd be out for a game or so but it has taken four months," he said. "I have done some hard work over the last month or so at Potchefstroom in South Africa with some of the other bowlers and it's been nice to get through 25 overs in a couple of days."
Had Tim Bresnan not gone home with an injured elbow it is likely that Tremlett would not have played in the match. He still faces competition from a rapidly advancing Steve Finn as he conceded last night. But Tremlett has learned how to win matches for England and in little more than 12 months he has become an established and genuine international performer.
England batted for two hours yesterday. Andrew Strauss made his second fifty of the tour without fuss while he and Trott shared a first-wicket stand of 130. It was about all that could be said for England's batting but Tremlett and Graham Onions showed they meant business with the new ball.
Fawad Alam, the former Test batsman, played an initial flurry of strokes but the end came soon enough. Two tour match wins may not amount to much but England won two out of three with a winning draw before the Ashes last winter and felt wonderful about themselves come the first Test. Something similar may apply.
Must do better: Four with plenty to prove
The spinners are lining up to bowl at him at the moment but these warm-up games never turn KP on. Expect Mr Showman to rise to the occasion in the Tests. Pakistan beware.
He has been given the challenge of becoming the best Test match batsman in the world. He may be getting too cute too early against spinners at the moment, and he may even be unhappy that he's not batting No 3, but expect him to come good when it matters.
This is a very big series for England's No 6. A couple of failures – combined with a Pakistan win in the first Test – are likely to see him dropped, but he is a master manipulator of the twirlymen so don't write him off just yet.
There are nagging doubts that England's No 1 spinner has gone off the boil and is starting to believe his own publicity. He has a big 12 months coming up when he is expected to win Tests for his country on the subcontinent.Reuse content