Much more of this and words will need eating, judgements altering and articles rewriting. England won their second successive one-day match in Asia last night, defying most observers and surprising probably themselves.
It was perhaps closer than the 20-run margin sounds. Pakistan were never quite out of the match until the last three overs, and though it is probably fair to note that they were never quite in it either, England could never afford to play less than diligently.
In a trice, their tour has been transformed and having ended the Test series with a 3-0 defeat, wondering if they would ever win again, they now might be in the mood for musing on whether they can lose. This was not the way round it was supposed to be, though nobody should run away with the notion that England are anything near to being a complete one-day unit.
Still, at 2-0 up, the least they can do is draw the series, a position that looked distinctly improbable when it started last Monday. Not only that, but the push for victory was again launched by the captain, Alastair Cook, and Ravi Bopara.
Cook scored his second successive century – the 10th England player to do so in one-dayers, the first captain – and Ravi Bopara another fifty. They put on 78 for the third wicket to follow their partnership of 131 in the first match, a less tacky version of The Only Way is Essex.
With a bit of Middlesex on the end for good measure, as Steve Finn took 4 for 34 to complement identical figures on Monday. This was Groundhog Day in the gulf two weeks after they had marked it in Punxsutawney. Finn is in fine fettle and as much as any bowler anywhere he has the happiest knack of all – getting opposition batsmen out. He bowled ferociously at the start and obtained incisive reverse swing later.
Cook's innings was marginally less fluent than that in the first match, as much a comment on the slowness of the pitch as the nature of his batting. He was again a model of concentration and determination, using the sweep to magnificent effect and striking timely boundaries.
The match was never quite in the bag for either team. Pakistan were always just behind the asking rate, throttled at the start by smart, accurate fast bowling – but possessed enough wisdom and flair in the ranks to know what could be done and when. England, probably content with their total, made no early inroads but took wickets when they needed them. Or perhaps Pakistan had to be prepared to lose them.
"We thought 250 would be a challenging score," Cook said. "On that wicket when that ball got soft it would be really hard to get away and when we went out we knew the first 20 overs would be crucial. If we could keep them down below the rate, it would be really hard and so it proved."
It came down to a question of whether Pakistan could increase their rate to above a run a ball in the last 10 overs. They could not. Briefly England had cause to be afraid of Shahid Afridi – very afraid – as he hit a six and a four off successive balls from Samit Patel. That apart, it was an impressive display of left-arm spin – or rather left-arm roll – from Patel. His accuracy in the middle overs gave Pakistan no freedom and little opportunity to take risks. It was just what was needed.
England's fielding in the ring was also of an extremely high standard. Single after single was cut off and boundaries prevented. Nothing frustrates batsmen more. There was an outstanding run-out executed by Stuart Broad who was appealing for lbw when he realised Imran Farhat had left his ground and he threw down the stumps with a deadly underarm throw as the batsman wandered.
At the last, wicketkeeper Craig Kieswetter took a magnificent, steepling catch, running 20 yards and diving full length to clutch the ball. It is the sort of effort that can be overlooked late in the match when it is all but done but it demonstrated proper commitment – especially as he had made a hash of a diving chance earlier.
No praise should be too high for Cook for overcoming so many reservations about his place both as batsman and captain. He and his new opening partner, Kevin Pietersen, gave England a solid, if not spectacular, start.
The last England batsman to score successive one-day hundreds was Paul Collingwood in 2007, the first was David Gower in 1983. Cook faced 121 balls and hit 10 fours.
The jury remains out on Pietersen as opener (he managed just 26 from 46 balls this time), but if the team keep winning they do not need to deliver a verdict yet.
Abu Dhabi, second one-day international): England beat Pakistan by 20 runs to lead four-match series 2-0; England won toss
*A N Cook c & b Afridi 102/0/10/121/168
K P Pietersen lbw b Ajmal 26/0/4/46/65
I J L Trott c Akmal b Cheema 23/0/1/38/36
R S Bopara c Akmal b Cheema 58/0/4/66/95
E J G Morgan not out 25/1/0/29/34
Extras (b1 lb5 w10) 16
Total (for 4, 50 overs) 250
Fall 1-67, 2-116, 3-194, 4-250.
Did not bat †C Kieswetter, S R Patel, S C J Broad, G P Swann, J M Anderson, S T Finn.
Bowling Umar Gul 7-1-43-0, Aizaz Cheema 9-0-49-2, Mohammad Hafeez 4-0-24-0, Abdur Rehman 10-1-36-0, Shahid Afridi 10-1-38-1, Saeed Ajmal 10-0-54-1.
Mohammad Hafeez c Trott b Anderson 26/0/3/43/61
Imran Farhat run out 47/0/5/71/87
Azhar Ali b Patel 31/0/3/50/68
Younis Khan lbw b Patel 5/0/0/8/11
* Misbah-ul-Haq c Kieswetter b Broad 47/0/2/59/109
†Umar Akmal c Patel b Finn 21/0/3/23/32
Shahid Afridi b Anderson 18/1/1/18/22
Abdur Rehman b Finn 1/0/0/12/14
Umar Gul lbw b Finn 5/0/1/5/6
Saeed Ajmal not out 7/0/1/4/10
Aizaz Cheema b Finn 1/0/0/2/3
Extras (b5 lb7 w8 nb1) 21
Total(for 10, 49 overs) 230
Fall 1-61, 2-92, 3-104, 4-142, 5-179, 6-207, 7-217, 8-217, 9-222.
Bowling S T Finn 10-1-34-4, J M Anderson 9-1-36-2, S C J Broad 10-0-54-1, G P Swann 8-0-33-0, R S Bopara 2-0-10-0, S R Patel 10-0-51-2.
Umpires Aleem Dar (Pak) and H D P K Dharmasena (S Lanka).
Facts in figures
24 Fours hit by Alastair Cook in the series so far...but no sixes.
55.93 Alastair Cook's average as ODI captain. Overall average: 41.39.
96 Runs conceded by Umar Gul this series, without taking a wicket.
209 Runs from Cook and Bopara in their partnerships in series so far.Reuse content