Flower's positive spin as England bounce back
Bairstow's brilliance sets up today's decider as T20 side learn lessons from Test series
England reach the end of their most peculiar tour tonight by playing in front of their largest crowd. The Sheikh Zayed Stadium, another sporting monument which appears to have sprung up among sand dunes, will have a capacity audience for the decisive Twenty20 match against Pakistan.
The Tests and most of the one-dayers were played in an overwhelming silence of the sort that once existed only in libraries or cathedrals. No matter the reasons or excuses, it is still testimony to the popularity of T20 at the expense of other forms of the game.
Considering the accomplished fashion in which England levelled the series at 1-1 towards midnight on Saturday, they would seem to have every chance of ending this trip on a high note. They won by 38 runs, bowling out their opponents for 112 with 10 balls remaining after the 22-year-old Jonny Bairstow played a powerful and measured innings of 60 not out to show that the young may well inherit the Twenty20 earth.
But it has been the strangest two months for many reasons. The two sides have shuttled back and forth between Dubai and Abu Dhabi, exchanging one desert location for another every few days, and until the last two matches going about their business relatively undisturbed.
That has been embellished by the oddness of the results. The Test and one-day series went the ways nobody would have predicted, whitewashes both to the less expected side.
"It has been a fascinating tour," said the England coach, Andy Flower. "It's been very good for our growth as a group I think. Sometimes you learn some harsh but very good lessons when you don't do that well. So out of the Test series I hope that we've become a better side.
"It's been nice to see how we've bounced back in the limited-overs stuff. I think that's testament to the strength of the group and also the confidence of the group to come back as strongly as we have."
Perhaps the most heartening sight seen since the tourists arrived here on 3 January was seen on Saturday night. Here was the future of the team and the game. Bairstow has found international cricket difficult since he burst on to the scene with a match-winning cameo on his debut last September.
Seven innings had brought five single-figure scores and batting seemed to have become a torturous affair. His 22 not out in the first Twenty20 match here could be construed a failure because England lost a match they should have won and he failed to his any boundaries.
Things changed on Saturday. He hit certainly and he hit hard and the boundaries came in ways traditional and unconventional. His unbeaten 60 from 46 balls took England to the total of 150 for 7 they had calculated would be enough to win.
Bairstow joined the squad only for the limited-overs section of the tour but it was still a demonstration of the huge improvements England have made in playing spin since the shock of the Test series. They look positive but not reckless. "I'm not sure they worked any harder," said Flower. "You can get any bunch of palookas to work hard, that's not the point. You need people to work smart and I think we worked a little smarter thereafter and sometimes you get some really good lessons from tough times and I think we took those."
After Bairstow's collected effort, England's bowlers operated on the high plane where they have existed throughout. Pakistan had their moments but England were too organised and skilled to allow any sustained threat and allied to some nifty catching it was all done and dusted smoothly. With Misbah-ul-Haq, Pakistan's captain, under increasing pressure at home, the same England team may follow suit tonight.
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