Nothing has become England this winter so much as their bowling. It has been a thing of beauty and if it may not necessarily be a joy for ever it should be around awhile yet.
Most of the plaudits and the man-of-the-match award understandably went to Kevin Pietersen after England clinched an improbable 3-0 one-day series victory against Pakistan on Saturday night. Pietersen's 111 not out from 98 balls was his first limited-overs century in more than three years spanning nearly 40 innings and its measured but sustained aggression justified his elevation to open the batting with Alastair Cook.
The pair put on 170 for the first wicket, England's highest against Pakistan, and Cook was in sight of his third successive hundred when he was out, which was highly implausible the way things were going. England won the match by nine wickets with 76 balls left.
All this should not divert attention, or not for long, from the magnificent quality of England's bowling. It has been exemplary throughout this tour, alone giving the team the opportunity of winning the Test series, and it has reached a new peak in the one-day series. In each of the three matches so far, Pakistan have been bowled out, for 130, 230 and on Saturday, on an equable batting surface, for 222. If some of the strokeplay was insipid – reminiscent, as it happens, of the manner England went about their business in the Test matches – Pakistan were confronted by a tour de force.
England were naggingly accurate at the start, bowling lengths precise enough to encourage hesitancy, and when they found some reverse swing going their way in the middle of the innings the batting difficulties were exacerbated. As has been the case for the whole tour, the fast bowlers played the starring roles, the spinners were in the support cast.
This is a rare occurrence in Asian conditions and it shows the penetrative powers of an attack which has come to recognise that bad balls release pressure. They have found a length that works and stuck to it, undoubtedly helped by the regulation introduced last October that two new balls be used in alternative overs from the start. It might sometimes mean that reverse swing takes longer to be part of the game, but the ball stays harder.
The old sweats have all had their moments – Jimmy Anderson, who might not have started the series had Tim Bresnan been fit, Stuart Broad and, with the middle-overs spin, Graeme Swann and Samit Patel.
Nobody has been as electrifyingly effective as Steve Finn, a 22-year-old fast bowler right at the top of his game.
Towards the end of last summer, Finn found, as bowlers like to put it, found an extra yard of pace. Allied to improved accuracy, an enhanced ability to adjust his length according to circumstance and the bounce his 6ft 8in frame allows him to extract from any pitch, he has become an extremely potent adversary.
"I've worked bloody hard to get where I am now," he said yesterday, sprawling on the lawn at the team's hotel in Dubai. "I've put in a lot of yards and hours that people haven't seen. There have been a lot of hours in the nets, bowling a lot of overs back with Middlesex, the time I spent in New Zealand before Christmas. It's contributed to me learning about myself, my game and my action more. I feel as though I have only got better since the Ashes last year."
Finn also has the happy attribute, one not easily explained by swing, seam, bounce, hours in the nets or whether there is an r in the month, of taking wickets. It has been the case since he started in international cricket – he took nine wickets in his first home Test – and when he was dropped from the Test side in Australia last winter he was still the leading wicket taker in the Ashes.
In this series so far he has now taken 11 wickets, he is conceding runs at barely three an over, he has been formidably quick with the new ball and trustworthily menacing with the older one. On Saturday there was the sight of batsmen backing away as he eased his long body to the crease.
"Never once did I think I'd cracked it," he said. "I had a lucky streak when I managed to take a lot of wickets in not many games. There's a lot more than luck that makes you a successful international cricketer. I went away after last winter's Ashes and worked hard and realised there were a lot of areas where I needed to improve. Consistency was an issue, bowling afew too-many four balls. I'm notsaying I've ruled it out of my gamebut it is something that I've got a lot better at.
"There were a few minor technical things that needed work on – straightening my run-up a little, making sure I follow through rather than falling off. That might be where my extra bit of pace has come from. Really simple things that make a big difference."
Finn is the best bowler in the team at present, which is to take nothing away from the others. On that basis, he should be in the Test XI but he did not play in any of the three matches against Pakistan. Last summer he was behind four other fast bowlers – Anderson, Broad, Chris Tremlett and Bresnan.
A Test tour of Sri Lanka will follow this trip to the UAE. The composition of the attack may well be two seamers and two spinners. Anderson and Broad are the senior men and Finn will probably have to wait until the home summer. But then Bresnan cannot be easily discarded, not least because England have won all the 10 Tests in which he has played and his batting and multi-purpose fielding bring an extra dimension.
Rarely can the overall calibre of England's attack across all formats have been so enticing, for which the bowling coach, David Saker, deserves much credit. They have a competitive edge lent by skill which barely needs a snarl or a sledge to back it up.
After Pakistan were bowled out for 222 at the Dubai ICS on Saturday night the stage was set for Pietersen. He turned in a stellar performance but he did not steal the show.
DUBAI, third One-Day International: England beat Pakistan by nine wickets to lead four-match series 3-0.
Pakistan won toss;
Mohammad Hafeez lbw b Finn 29
28 balls 3 fours
Imran Farhat c Kieswetter b Finn 9
10 balls 2 fours
Azhar Ali c Kieswetter b Broad 5
Asad Shafiq run out 18
39 balls 2 fours
*Misbah-ul-Haq c Swann b Broad 1
Umar Akmal c Patel b Broad 50
92 balls 1 four
Shahid Afridi b Anderson 51
55 balls 3 fours 1 six
†Adnan Akmal b Finn 9
Umar Gul not out 27
27 balls 1 four 2 sixes
Saeed Ajmal b Anderson 4
Aizaz Cheema run out 5
Extras (lb 11 w 2 nb 1) 14
Total (all out, 50 overs) 222
Fall 22, 49, 49, 50, 97, 176, 180, 204, 209, 222.
Bowling Anderson 10-0-52-2, Finn 10-1-24-3, Broad 10-2-42-3, Swann 10-0-44-0, Patel 8-1-37-0, Bopara 2-0-12-0.
A Cook c Adnan Akmal b Saeed Ajmal 80
98 balls 9 fours 1 six
K Pietersen not out 111
98 balls 10 fours 2 sixes
E Morgan not out 24
32 balls 2 fours 1 six
Extras (lb 3 w 4 nb 4) 11
Total for one wicket (37.2 overs) 226
Did not bat J Trott, R Bopara, C Kieswetter, S Patel, S Broad, G Swann, J Anderson, S Finn.
Bowling U Gul 7-0-59-0, A Cheema 6.2-0-40-0, S Ajmal 10-1-40-1, M Hafeez 6-0-32-0, S Afridi 8-0-52-0.
Umpires A Dar (Pak)& S J A Taufel (Aus).
Remaining match: Tomorrow; Fourth One-Day International (Dubai).