The team who could not win now cannot lose. Having suffered a whitewash against Pakistan in the Test series, a form of the game at which they are No 1 in the world, England yesterday took an unassailable 3-0 lead in the one-day series, a format at which they were generally considered to be useless.
They did so in lustrous style, winning by nine wickets with 76 balls to spare. Kevin Pietersen made his eighth one-day international hundred, his first in 37 innings, and finished with 111 not out from 98 balls. It was a reasonable marker to lay down as an indication that his elevation to opener might actually work.
On the way, he became only the seventh England batsman to reach 4,000 runs in one-day internationals, a landmark he reached with his 67th six. It has been a difficult tour for Pietersen, as he had conceded the day before this match, but this was firm evidence that that talk of the 2015 World Cup is not a mere pipe dream.
He shared an opening partnership of 170 with Alastair Cook, England's highest for the first wicket against Pakistan. Cook was in full view of his third successive hundred, a feat never before achieved by an England batsman, when he inexplicably played down the wrong line to Saeed Ajmal was caught behind. Until then England were doing much as they wanted against a Pakistan side which had long since given up the ghost.
Pietersen, as is his wont, was less than glowing about his own performance, relieved though he must have been, but he was fulsome about the team. "It's nice to get a hundred," he said. "I didn't know it was three-and- a-half years but it's a long time ago.3-0 up, it's a brilliant, brilliant, brilliant result for the lads.
"There's a reason why not everybody keeps getting hundreds in one-day cricket. In Test cricket you can bat at a pace, bat for two sessions, three sessions. One-day hundreds are very hard and when you get 'em, you enjoy 'em."
This turnaround in fortune has been as unpredictable as it has been astonishing. What was supposed to happen was that England would come to the UAE, win the Tests narrowly on alien pitches in keeping with their status and struggle haplessly in the shorter game.
And what misguided tosh that has proved. England, led unflappably by Cook, have played seamlessly in the past few days. In Abu Dhabi they batted first and defended their total both times, in Dubai yesterday they were forced to bat second and made light work of the task.
Effectively, sometimes spectacularly, though Pietersen and Cook batted, assembling the highest of their three partnerships all of which have passed 50, they were operating in the wake of a wonderful bowling effort. Pakistan's batting, in truth, was as toothless as England's had been for most of the Test rubber but they were confronted by an attack who knew what they were doing and did it.
The seamers did the damage. Steve Finn was again resplendent: fast, accurate, menacing and altogether too awkward a proposition for several of the opposition batsmen. But Stuart Broad and Jimmy Anderson were uniformly proficient and Broad, in particular, responded splendidly after his first over cost 16 runs.
Finn, who had made the initial breakthrough, had Mohammad Hafeez lbw and Broad coaxed edges out of Azhar Ali and Misbah-ul-Haq. The first embryonic recovery was curbed when Asad Shafiq was run out scrambling for his ground. To all intents he had made it but his bat was not grounded as he dived. When you need the rub of the green you never get it.
There followed something ofsubstance from Umar Akmal and Shahid Afridi which might have taken Pakistan to the more threateningregions of 250. But England neverlet them off the hook and although Afridi rattled along at a run a ball the overall rate barely went above four an over.
After Akmal was out, superbly caught by the maligned Samit Patel, darting to his right and clutching the ball inches above the ground, Pakistan did not hang around long.
England's opening pair rattled along from the start and, when they took 15 from the fifth over, a 10-ball affair from Umar Gul, the game was in the palm of their hand.
Pietersen offered one chance when a fierce pull was put down at deep midwicket when he was 45 but thereafter England cruised.
Meanwhile, Graham Gooch, hitherto batting consultant to England, has been made full-time batting coach.
Pakistan won toss
Mohammad Hafeez lbw b Finn 29/28/3/0
Imran Farhat c Kieswetter b Finn 9/10/2/0
Azhar Ali c Kieswetter b Broad 5/13/0/0
Asad Shafiq run out 18/39/2/0
*Misbah-ul-Haq c Swann b Broad 1/6/0/0
Umar Akmal c Patel b Broad 50/92/1/0
Shahid Afridi b Anderson 51/55/3/1
Adnan Akmal b Finn 9/22/0/0
Umar Gul not out 27/27/1/2
Saeed Ajmal b Anderson 4/5/0/0
Aizaz Cheema rot out 5/4/0/0
Extras (lb11 w2 nb1) 14
Total (50 overs) 222
Fall 1-22 2-49 3-49 4-50 5-97 6-176 7-180 8-204 9-209 10-222.
Bowling J M Anderson 10-0-52-2; S T Finn 10-1-24-3; S C J Broad 10-2-42-3; G P Swann 10-0-44-0; S R Patel 8-1-37-0; R S Bopara 2-0-12-0.
*A N Cook c Adnan Akmal b Saeed Ajmal 80/98/9/1
K P Pietersen not out 111/98/10/2
E J G Morgan not out 24/32/2/1
Extras (lb3 w4 nb4) 11
Total (for 1, 37.2 overs) 226
Did not bat I J L Trott, R S Bopara, C Kieswetter, S R Patel, S C J Broad, G P Swann, J M Anderson, S T Finn.
Bowling Umar Gul 7-0-59-0; Aizaz Cheema 6.2-0-40-0; Saeed Ajmal 10-1-40-1; Mohammad Hafeez 6-0-32-0; Shahid Afridi 8-0-52-0.
Umpires Aleem Dar (Pak) and S J A Taufel (Aus).
England win by 9 wickets.